VANCOUVER, Canada — Ten former NHL players have claimed in a class-action lawsuit the league was negligent in withholding and misrepresenting information about the consequences of repeated blows to the head, contributing to players’ brain injuries and neurological disorders.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks compensatory and punitive damages in addition to a court-supervised, league-funded medical monitoring program to diagnose and treat head injuries.
In August, the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle a suit brought by 4,500 retired players and their families who said the league didn’t disclose the long-term impact of head injuries.
The Laguna Hills law firm of Namanny, Byrne and Owens — in which former Rams linebacker Mel Owens is a partner — joined with Baltimore-based Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White to file the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends the NHL ignored medical research on head injuries and didn’t promote players’ safety until it instituted a concussion program in 1997 and concussion protocols in 2011. “The NHL’s active and purposeful concealment of the severe risks of brain injuries exposed players to unnecessary dangers they could have avoided had the NHL provided them with truthful and accurate information and taken appropriate action to prevent needless harm,” the suit says.
It also claims the league “has nurtured a culture of violence” and encourages players to play despite injuries.
The players bringing the suit were Brad Aitken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richard Dunn, former King Warren Holmes, Gary Leeman, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart, Morris Titanic and Rick Vaive.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement: “While the subject matter is very serious, we are completely satisfied with the responsible manner in which the league and the Players’ Assn. have managed player safety over time, including with respect to head injuries and concussions. We intend to defend the case vigorously and have no further comment at this time.”
Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey, a prominent agent and former deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit.
“The NHL commenced its concussion program 16 years ago and took no affirmative steps to protect its players until 2011,” he said via email. “All we ever heard from the NHL was ‘More studies are needed,’ and ‘We are the first sports league to have a working concussion study group.’
“I expect we will see a steady flow of players seeking to join this class-action litigation and similar lawsuits will probably soon be filed in other jurisdictions as well. The alarm bells have been going off for many years and one of the threshold questions is whether the NHL purposely withheld and concealed this information from players.”