The National Hockey League was sued by 29 former players in the United States District Court in Minnesota last week, joining several others who brought suit last year against the league contending that the NHL ignored substantial evidence of the long term effects of concussions. The class action litigation against the NHL is very similar to the massive suit brought by several thousand ex-players and their families, alleging traumatic brain injury and significant degenerative diseases suffered by players from repeated concussions, which, it is contended, the NFL was aware of but chose not to enlighten the players about. The NFL suit was initially settled in principle last year for approximately $765 million, but ultimately a federal judge determine that the amount was insufficient and the cap on damages was removed, with no final judicial approval yet.
In the case against the NHL, recent events have moved the case more aggressively. First, a ten year veteran with a history of concussions, 35 year old Steve Montador, was found dead in his Ontario home on February 15, 2015. Mr. Montador joins a list of ex NHL players who have died prematurely, confronted by evidence of traumatic brain injury, such as depression and cognitive difficulties. One month before he died, Mr. Montador retained a lawyer to join the litigation against the NHL, and his brain was donated to science to discover whether he was suffering from chronic traumatic encepholpathy, (CTE), a brain disease brought on by repeated trauma to the brain. CTE causes deposits of a sticky substance known as “tau”, which interfere with brain function and lead to memory loss, dementia, depression, mood swings, and loss of cognitive abilities.
As in the case of many ex NFL “enforcers” who sought out contact and were unwittingly causing themselves long term damage due to the repeated head trauma they endured, the NHL has seen its own “on ice bodyguards” such as Derek Boogard, Wade Belak (35) and Rick Rypien (27) die prematurely. These players where known for having regular fist fights with other players, which the league did nothing to discourage, as these battles added to fan interest and only increased TV ratings. Boogard died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose at age 28 in 2011. An autopsy revealed substantial CTE, and a brain that appeared to be that of a man more than twice his age. Boogard’s family did not join the class action against the NHL and have a wrongful death lawsuit against the league. Mr. Belak and Mr. Rypien died of apparent suicides.