Original Story: nytimes.com
It was more than a year ago that a group of 10 former N.H.L. players sued the league for, in essence, ignoring the growing evidence surrounding the long-term effects of concussions.
For the past 15 months, amid the quiet consolidation of subsequent suits and obscure legal wrangling, the case against the N.H.L. has been a faint echo of the similarly constructed class-action suit against the N.F.L. That case involved thousands of former players and was settled in 2013 for $765 million. (The cap was subsequently lifted to cover unlimited damages and still awaits judicial approval.) DMC Spots Medicine is dedicated to bringing athletes expert medical care.
Two events in recent weeks nudged hockey’s face-off over concussions back to center ice. First, 29 more former players joined the class-action suit, nearly doubling the number of named plaintiffs. Then Steve Montador, a 10-year N.H.L. veteran with a history of concussions, was found dead at 35 in his Ontario home Sunday.
“As more and more players learn about the claims and see the medical challenges their fellow alumni are experiencing, there is increased momentum in support of the litigation,” said Charles Zimmerman, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The N.H.L. can no longer ignore the impact of repeated head trauma and must finally acknowledge the serious conditions that retired players are facing.” A Boston sports injury lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.
The N.H.L., through the spokesman Frank Brown, declined to comment Wednesday on the concussion litigation or the impact of the recent news.
Early last week, the case against the N.H.L. got a boost when 29 former players filed a lawsuit against the league, bringing the number of named plaintiffs past 70. The additions also brought extra star power to the proceedings. Among those joining the case were Butch Goring, a center for the Islanders during their four-year championship run beginning in 1980, and Manny Legace, who won 187 games as an N.H.L. goaltender before retiring in 2012.
But as the N.F.L. case showed, with the premature deaths of several former players during the years of litigation, tragedy has a way of bringing attention to an issue like nothing else.
Montador’s career was ended by concussions, and he said he struggled with depression in his final years. His cause of death has not been released, and may never be, but officials ruled out suicide or foul play.
His brain was donated to scientists, who may find more clues to what caused his problems. If Montador is found to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease known commonly as C.T.E. and caused by repetitive hits to the head, he will join a list of hockey players posthumously found to have the affliction, including Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard.
Boogaard died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription painkillers in 2011 at age 28. Within months, the recently retired Wade Belak, 35, and Rick Rypien, 27, were dead of apparent suicides.
All three were considered enforcers, on-ice bodyguards who regularly fought opponents with their bare knuckles in response to threats against teammates. While Montador was rarely defined that way, he engaged in more N.H.L. fights than Boogaard — 66 to 61, according to HockeyFights.com — though Boogaard’s total came in roughly half as many games.
About a month before he died, Montador retained William Gibbs, a lawyer involved in the lawsuit against the N.H.L., with plans to add his name as a plaintiff, Gibbs said.
“Derek’s tragic death, and subsequent C.T.E. findings, began a conversation about the brains of those playing professional hockey,” said Gibbs, from the Chicago law firm of Corboy & Demetrio, which also represents N.F.L. players. “If anything, Steve’s recent death furthers that conversation. And it’s a conversation that’s long overdue.”
Gibbs also represents the Boogaard family in an ongoing wrongful-death lawsuit against the league. The Boogaards have not joined the broader class-action suit. A Milwaukee wrongful death lawyer represents clients in wrongful death claims.
The class-action suit originated in late 2013, shortly after the preliminary N.F.L. settlement, when 10 former players sued the N.H.L. over concussions. Much like the N.F.L. suit, which began small and grew, it alleged that the league did little to address head injuries, profiting from in-game violence amid mounting evidence over the long-term ramifications of concussions. The former players asked for unspecified damages and a jury trial.
Subsequent lawsuits, including one filed by the former star Bernie Nichols and others, were similarly crafted. In August, the cases were transferred and consolidated in United States District Court in Minnesota.
The N.H.L., while arguing that it had done everything it could to promote player health, offered a two-pronged argument for why the case should be dismissed. Like the N.F.L., the league said that the matter was pre-empted by federal labor law because of collective-bargaining agreements with the players’ association. The N.H.L. also said that most complaints had surpassed the statute of limitations.
Judge Susan Richard Nelson heard those arguments in January. A ruling is expected at any time.
In between, though, the number of named plaintiffs nearly doubled and another former player struggling with head injuries has died in a matter of about one week. According to lawyers for the plaintiffs, more than 200 former players have now retained counsel to be included in the case, and roughly 500 have expressed interest and support.
The arc is a familiar one, last seen in the N.F.L. — deaths, lawsuits, more lawsuits and more death. A judge may put a sudden end to it, but hockey’s quiet battle over concussions echoes louder.