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Retired players sue NHL over head injuries

By Ken Belson & Jeff Z. Klein

New York Times

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:44 p.m. HST, Nov 26, 2013



Ten former National Hockey League players sued the league Monday for negligence and fraud, claiming the sport's officials should have done more to address head injuries but instead celebrated a culture of speed and violence.

The players, who were in the league in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, filed their suit in federal court in Washington. One of the lead lawyers is Mel Owens, a former NFL player who has represented scores of other retired players in workers' compensation cases.

Most of the hockey players range from role players to stars like Rick Vaive, who scored more than 400 goals in 14 seasons. One player in the suit, Darren Banks, was described as an enforcer. The players claim to have sustained repeated hits to the head during their careers and now suffer from depression, headaches and memory loss.

One player, Morris Titantic, reached at his home near Buffalo, N.Y., declined to comment and referred all questions to his lawyers.

The suit comes about three months after the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle hundreds of cases brought by more than 4,000 retired NFL players who claimed that the league knew about the dangers of repeated head hits but failed to properly warn the players. Similar suits have been filed against the NCAA.

In seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, the players' complaint maintains that the NHL "knew or should have been aware" of the effects of head hits but "took no remedial action to prevent its players from unnecessary harm" until 1997, when the league created a program to research and study brain injuries. Even then, the suit says, "the NHL took no action to reduce the number and severity of concussions among its players during that period and Plaintiffs relied on the NHL's silence to their detriment."

Owens and other lawyers said in a statement, "The NHL continues to glorify and empower players known as 'enforcers' -- players with the singular intention of injuring the opposing team."

In a statement, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said: "While the subject matter is very serious, we are completely satisfied with the responsible manner in which the League and the Players' Association 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."

Although hockey players have sustained concussions and other head injuries for generations, the NHL faced less scrutiny about its policies than the NFL. The NHL set up a concussion study program in 1997, the first in North American major league sports, and has in recent years modified rules in response to increased concern about head trauma.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has long noted that it was the first major professional league to establish concussionprotocols. As the spotlight on concussions in football has grown, the NHL has strengthened its rules on identifying and treating head injuries as well as punishing the plays that cause them.

In May, the family of Derek Boogaard filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the league, alleging that the NHL was responsible for the physical trauma and brain damage that Boogaard sustained during six seasons as one of the league's top enforcers. Boogaard was found dead of an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers and alcohol in 2011. He was posthumously found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

The suits brought by retired NFL players were originally filed in states around the country over many months. They were eventually consolidated and heard in federal court in Philadelphia. Players will soon have a chance to approve the proposed settlement.






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