Nine former players for the National Hockey League (NHL) filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court in Manhattan claiming that the league failed to warn players about the dangers of concussions. According to the class action lawsuit, the NHL “fostered and promoted an extremely physical game of hockey.” In addition, the suit asserts that the NHL “has failed and continues to fail to warn its players of these risks and consequences of head trauma, concealing material scientific and anecdotal from its players.” The complaint further contends that “despite the fact that the NHL’s violent game design induces head trauma, including concussions, the NHL has failed and continues to fail to warn its places of the risks to their lives and the devastating and long-term negative health effects.”
Dan LaCouture, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, played 348 NHL games between 1998 and 2009. LaCouture suffered from a concussion during a fight in a game. As a result, the retired player now suffers from headaches, extreme irritability, depression and sensitivity to light. While the NHL has taken recent measures to ban deliberate hits to the head, the federal suit states that such actions come far too late for players like LaCouture.
In September 2013, the National Football League (NFL) agreed to pay $765 million to thousands of former players who filed lawsuits stating that they suffered from dementia or other concussion-related problems. Moreover, in November 2013, ten former NHL players filed a federal lawsuit in Washington making allegations similar to the ones in the New York suit against the NHL. The Washington lawsuit claims that “The NHL’s active and purposeful concealment of he 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.”
In 1997, the NHL launched a study looking into the impact that brain injuries, including concussions, were having on the league’s players. However, the Washington suit asserts that the NHL failed to act upon its findings. Moreover, the suit points out that the NHL still doesn’t ban fighting and body checking and promotes a “culture of violence” that encourages such behavior. A plaintiff in the Washington suit, Gary Leeman, a former All-Star defenseman in the NHL, suffered from multiple concussions throughout his career. Today, he suffers from post-traumatic head syndrome, headaches, memory loss and dizziness.
Former NHL player Rick Vaive, commenting on the Washington lawsuit, stated that players “were kept in the dark about the risks of concussions and many of the former NHL players are now suffering from debilitating head injuries from their time in the league. Hopefully this lawsuit will shine light on the problems and the players will get the help they deserve.”
During an interview in early 2013, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league takes the players’ safety seriously. He remarked, “We have, on our own, a long history, going back to 1997, of taking concussions very seriously. We spend a lot of time, money and effort with the players’ associating on player safety.”
Former Hockey Players Sue NHL Over Concussions, Business Week, April 10, 2014
NHL hit with concussion lawsuit by former players, Sports Illustrated, November 25, 2013