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Bryan Berard seeks $18M from insurance company regarding eye injury

Jul 12, 2014, 9:01 AM EDT

Men's USA Hockey Practice Getty Images

Former NHL defenseman Bryan Berard isn’t playing professional hockey any more, yet he’s been in some pretty heated legal disputes lately. He already made news by helping to expose con men in 2013 and now it appears that he’ll be involved in some legal wrangling involving insurance money from his playing days. He’s seeking $18 million overall, according to the New York Post.

While playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2000, then-Ottawa Senators forward Marian Hossa caught him in the right eye with a high stick. That unfortunate incident left Berard with a detached retina and retinal tear, requiring him to undergo seven operations on his right eye. Berard received a $6.3 million settlement in 2001 related to that injury, but returned it to resume his NHL career … and that’s where the details get a little cloudy.

The New York Daily News breaks down the discrepancy between the two sides:

The insurance company claimed in the complaint that once Berard returned to hockey following the injury in which he was clipped in the right eye with a stick while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game in Ottawa, eventually losing the sight in his eye, he signed a waiver agreeing to repay the money, and was barred from ever attempting to recoup it.

Berard, the NHL’s top draft choice in 1995, disagrees, and has accused the insurance company of fraud, according to the lawsuit.

But according to Berard, his $6 million personal policy with Standard Security did not originally include language requiring him to repay the insurance money should he return to play, and was inserted in the policy after the company realized that the language was included in two additional policies issued by the NHL and the NHL Players Association by the same company. Berard acknowledges he signed the waivers but says he was not represented by counsel and was not fully informed of what he was signing.

Berard, 37, believes his insurance company “slipped” the waiver in. Berard says that his lawyer clued him into the possibility that he didn’t need to return that $6.3 million payout while discussing a separate case in 2013, according to the New York Daily News.

The Ottawa Senators selected Berard first overall back in 1995. He won the 1997 Calder Trophy and managed to play in parts of six seasons after that injury, winning the 2004 Masterton Trophy in the process.

While he managed to play in the NHL following that injury, Berard told the New York Post that he has “no vision in his right eye.”

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

  1. storminator16 - Jul 12, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    Insurance companies….

  2. pone27 - Jul 12, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    Seriously…..

    Berard, among many players, pays into insurance for these situations.

    Ive never heard of a situation where if you get injured on the job, and receive compensation for that injury, that when you return to work, you need to give the money back. I mean not for nothing, but where is logic of insurance in that case?

    You PAY into the plan in case situations like this arise. You don’t pay into it to receive some cash and then give it back.

    I know we are talking millions of dollars here, which obviously makes the whole situation much more extreme than say a couple grand. Hopefully all works out for Berard. When healthy, he was definitely a great defenseman

    • rmccleary97 - Jul 12, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      The presumption was that Berard could never play hockey again, so he received $6 million. He got the money, then was able to play again after surgery – therefore, he no longer fit the “can never play hockey again” condition that triggered the payment. However, it’s not nearly as cut and dry as that.

      Imagine you offer to give me $1 million if I’m run over by a Mack truck and can *never* work again. Sure enough, tomorrow I get run over by a Mack truck and am seriously injured and everyone (including you) thinks I’ll never work again – so you give me $1 million. 6 months later, some miracle happens and I can go back to work – even if it’s at a reduced function of what I did previously. It’s incredibly unlikely that you’re going to say “well, he couldn’t work for 6 months, that’s kind of close to never again, … meh, he can keep the $1 million.” You’re probably going to come back and say “whoa, you’re working and I said you only get the $1 million if you could *never* work again – so fork over that $1 million I gave you.” But … can you do that? Did you reserve the right to come back after the money if facts change after the payment was made? Or, did you concede “he’s never going to work again” and drop all rights to recoup the money if I went on to work?

      That kind of illustrates what’s going on between Berard and the insurer. A lot of critical details are missing here.

  3. c9castine - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Maybe im not understanding this correctly. Why would he give money back he was paid for his really legitimate seeming claim??

    That sounds like a bank loan

  4. kovalev27 - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Learn how insurance works and how insurance policy language works before making disparaging comments about either!
    Berard is an idiot and not having council available to him is neither the insurance companies obligation or responsibility , and is frankly a bad move by him.
    He signed the policy language , I’m assuming he can still read with one eye , so what didn’t he understand ?

    • esracerx46 - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      I agree that he should have read the policy… actually he should have had a lawyer or counsel like you said read the policy. However, you see more and more often today when people misunderstand and sign or uninformed and sign that they end up winning in court for whatever reason.

      It depends on what kind of insurance he bought. If it’s insurance that says if he’s unable to play hockey again, the insurance company may have a point. Because he did in fact play again. If he bought some type of disability or workmans comp type insurance he has a point. He was injured on the job, and lost significant time and for arguments sake is disabled. The argument may be whether or not he is disabled. He can still see, just out of only one eye. His earning power was greatly diminished because of the injury which I think should factor in at some point.

      Seeing as how insurance companies are a pain. Good Luck Bryan.

      I don’t think this is a case for ineedmorehossa

      • eduncan8888 - Jul 13, 2014 at 12:59 AM

        Maybe he couldnt read the policy because he had a patch on his dominant eye?
        (if that argument works in court I want a cut!)

  5. 34defense2014 - Jul 12, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Insurance Company’s are the biggest Racket it going! They as crooked as the Mob – killing people! They take and make millions then when it comes to pay out it’s always a fight or hassle!!! I’m not big into Legislation!! But in the case of insurance company’s go!’ They should be monitored from life insurance all the way down to auto insurance!!!

  6. flyboystransport - Jul 12, 2014 at 12:26 PM

    Problem is he got that money under the assumption he wasn’t gonna be able to play again. I think he loses this one

    • sixchr - Jul 12, 2014 at 2:58 PM

      This. A current example of this is going on with Jermichael Finley in the NFL right now. He could receive an insurance payment as compensation for his career ending due to injury or he could give it up and resume his career. I don’t know if this is apples to apples but the circumstances seem similar. If Berard was paid as compensation for his career ending due to injury and then he resumed his career, the compensation should be paid back.

  7. rmccleary97 - Jul 12, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    This isn’t a perfect example, but essentially Berard is arguing that “unable to play hockey ever again” should exclude the time where he could play hockey. Keep in mind that Berard earned just over $10 million in salary after coming back to hockey; no, it’s not necessarily the same as $6 million tax-free from insurance, but that comeback also allowed him enough games to qualify for an NHLPA pension (which has a non-trivial value) which he wouldn’t have received had he just taken the settlement and never played again.

    A lot of questions that don’t have answers in what’s being reported. Generally, there’s “a policy” for disability / career-ending injuries between the NHL/NHLPA and the insurer, and it covers all players; there may be changes from year to year, but those changes then become binding on all parties involved – so it may not matter what copy Berard signed, it may only matter what copy was in-force when the injury occurred. If there was a specific policy between Berard and the insurer, then it changes things – but again, that might be based on a general policy between the insurer and the NHLPA that’s subject to change. If that policy was a year-to-year thing (which is likely) then any waivers tacked on are going to be binding.

    Using “I wasn’t represented by counsel when I signed those” is largely irrelevant in most states, unless the language in the contract was particularly ambiguous (from the story, it doesn’t appear so) or Berard was unduly pressured by the insurer to sign the documents (my recollection is that he wanted to play hockey again, even if that meant giving up the insurance settlement – so that may not fly either). I would like to know if he was offered counsel and declined it. Did the NHLPA offer to help represent him? Did the insurer say “you should talk with a lawyer first, make sure you understand this” and he declined?

    • esracerx46 - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      Sounds like a lawyer? Great points regardless. I’m also wondering how 6 million turned into 18 million.

      • rmccleary97 - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:57 PM

        Actuary. Some would argue that’s just as bad.

        Berard’s arguing that $6 million turned into $18 million due to interest and damages. I’d be interested to know the details of the damages.

  8. reeggss - Jul 12, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    Mike Weber is seeking a similar settlement because he plays like he has one eye

  9. sailbum7 - Jul 12, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    If he returned to playing only to have the damage done by the injury progress until he competely lost sight in the eye, which then forced him to stop playing again, he may have a case. He may also have a separate case against Hossa. The fact that he was injured as the result of a foul committed by Hossa may come in to play. Many sports are seeing lawyers and courts start treating fouls, particularly deliberate ones, as criminal assaults. This could make Hossa liable for the damage to Berard’s eye caused by the foul. I know that this sounds like a stretch, but this is what courts and personal injury lawyers have started doing to professional sports. They see deliberate fouls as not part of the game or any assumed risk, but rather deliberate assaults on the part of the player committing the foul. I do not know if this is playing into the Berard situation, but it would not surprise me if it did.

    • avscup - Jul 13, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      Was it deliberate like Bertuzzi punching Moore from behind or was it an accident in the normal course of play? Big difference.

      His eye was injured by Hossa’s follow through on a shot, not an egregious and malicious act. Hossa would never loose that case.

  10. nothanksimdriving123 - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    I like Berard. I am not the world’s biggest fan of insurance companies. While I have received fair treatment from them, there are notorious cases of gross unfairness.
    That said, Berard chose to play without a readily available and commonly used piece of safety equipment, a visor. That proved a bad choice. He chose to decline legal counsel and evidently now regrets that choice too. Let’s see the relevant legal documents, and they better strongly support his case because it’s hanging by a thin thread.

  11. patthehockeyfan - Jul 12, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    In Googling Standard Security Insurance:

    “Standard Security Life Insurance Company of New York (Standard Security Life) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Independence Holding Company, (NYSE:IHC) with principal interests in the life and health insurance business. Also in The IHC Group are Madison National Life Insurance Company, Inc. and Independence American Insurance Company. The IHC Group has consolidated assets of more than one billion dollars, as of June 2010.”

    Repeat: “The IHC Group has consolidted assets of more than one billion dollars, as of June 2010.”

    Insurance companies are in business to make money for their owners/shareholders. They are loathe to part with that money if they can keep it, and they have no problem siccing their in-house lawyers on someone.

    Four years ago, the consolidated groups (3 insurance companies) were worth more than a billion dollars. I hope Berard gets the $6.3 million back that he repaid, and gets even more. Screw the insurance company.

  12. Hard to BeLeaf - Jul 12, 2014 at 6:31 PM

    IMO, he should have had to pay it back regardless of whether he played again or not. The guy was going to be a pretty good dman before the eye injury. He would have made WAY more money and probably played for a lot more seasons if he was never injured. 1st overall picks don’t usually retire at 31 years old. The guy missed out on a lot more than $6M because of his vision.

    • Hard to BeLeaf - Jul 12, 2014 at 6:32 PM

      oops. I meant
      “…should *NOT* have had to pay it back…”

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