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NHL hit with another class-action suit tied to brain injuries

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Another class-action lawsuit tied to head trauma has been filed against the NHL. (USATSI)
Another class-action lawsuit tied to head trauma has been filed against the NHL. (USATSI)

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The NHL has been hit with another class-action lawsuit tied to concussions. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota with former NHL defenseman Jon Rohloff, who spent parts of three seasons with the Boston Bruins, as the lone plaintiff.

More from the New York Times:

The suit says that the league concealed the dangers of concussion and did not pass rules designed to reduce the risk of brain injury until recent seasons. N.H.L. representatives did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday afternoon. After a similar suit was filed in April, Bill Daly, the deputy commissioner, said, “We are completely satisfied with our record on player safety, including as it relates to head injuries and brain trauma.”

The suit, which can be viewed in full here, may have Rohloff as the lone plaintiff so far, but it is also open to former NHLers and their families. Specifically, those eligible to join the class-action suit include:

All living persons who signed a contract to play in the NHL as a hockey player, their spouses and dependents, and the estates of deceased NHL players, who retired, formally or informally, from playing professional hockey with the NHL or any member club, and who are not seeking active employment as players with any NHL member club.

The suit declares the following as the nature of the action:

Former NHL players are uniting to send one resounding message: they signed up to play hockey knowing that they might get injured and dinged, but they did not sign up for brain damage.

Over the course of an NHL season, a player will sustain hundreds of hits to the head during games, contact in training camp practices, and from contact in some regular season practices. These concussive and sub-concussive impacts, particularly when multiplied over the course of an NHL career, result in impaired brain function or deadly brain disease.

The NHL knew this, but did not take measures to adequately inform or protect its players.

In making its case, the lawsuit goes hard after the prevalent culture of fighting and the league's alleged condoning of it, even citing statistics compiled by hockeyfights.com to show the frequency of fisticuffs. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges the NHL was deliberately slow to react in changing their rules regarding illegal body checks and went after the league for continuing to "market violent activities." The suit cites segments on NHL Network like "Ten Best Hits of the Week" and the "Broad Street Bullies" documentary, as well as the excessive body checks and fighting displayed in the video games the league endorses as part of that marketing of violent acts.

The suit filed on behalf of the class that only names Rohloff as a plaintiff seeks medical monitoring, financial compensation tied to the medical claims within, legal costs and other damages tied to the league's alleged misconduct.

The most recent class-action lawsuit filed against the NHL did not stay in the spotlight long after it started bleeding plaintiffs and was criticized for a litany of factual inaccuracies in its claims. The one filed on Rohloff's behalf looks far more competent at first glance.

Whether or not it will be successful remains to be seen.

These suits often come under fire in the public sphere as a money grab by former players who either never got rich or lost their riches. But even if that is true, they raise valid points in questioning what the league knew and when it knew about the effects of concussions and whether or not they have reacted appropriately.

In recent years, the NHL has come down more strictly on hits to the head and newer rules have done more to curtail the number of fights across the league. Even with that in mind, these lawsuits are bound to keep cropping up, especially after the NFL reached a settlement with former players who filed a class-action lawsuit against that league. That settlement is still tied up in U.S. district court as it was initially rejected by the judge.

Additionally, earlier this week, the NCAA settled a class-action lawsuit that will provide $70 million in concussion testing and diagnosis of current and former NCAA players.

Though these lawsuits are always viewed in many different ways by the public at large, the one thing all of them accomplish, whether they go to trial or settlement or not, is keeping the dialogue open about the risks inherent in contact sports. It forces these organizations to make changes necessary to better care for and protect the current and future players within the leagues. In extreme cases like the NFL settlement, they also help to make whole those who took on the risks without knowing just how devastating they could be later in life.

The more education and conversation these bring about, the better.

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