Concussions Are At The Heart Of A New Lawsuit Against The NHL

CREDIT: (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Steve Montador, while playing for the Buffalo Sabres in 2010.

The National Hockey League is already facing multiple lawsuits from former players alleging that it improperly handled concussions and other brain injuries. Now, the family of Steve Montador, a former player who died this year, will sue the league too, according to the New York Times.

Montador was just 35 when he died unexpectedly in February. The cause of death has not been named, but the Times reported that an autopsy of Montador’s brain found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease that is linked to repeated head trauma and has been found in dozens of former NFL players. The family of Derek Boogard, another former NHL player who had CTE, is also suing the league in a wrongful death suit filed in 2013. Researchers have also found CTE in athletes who suffered multiple concussions in other sports.

Former players have filed multiple suits against the NHL, alleging that it did not do enough to protect them from the long-term dangers of concussions. The suits are similar to the class action complaint against the NFL, which in 2014 reached a preliminary $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 former players. A federal judge approved that settlement in April, though an appeal from one former player could delay its implementation.

A federal judge in Minnesota rejected the NHL’s motion to dismiss the second suit in March. In May, she ruled that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had to testify as part of the lawsuit.

Five former NHL players have been diagnosed with CTE, but as in football, the full story of how many former hockey players may suffer from it or other debilitating diseases related to concussions is unknown. In 2011, the NHL instituted a new concussion policy that calls for players suspected of suffering a head injury to be removed from the ice and evaluated by team physicians, and (as is the case with the NFL), the league has proclaimed that concussion incidents are down league-wide. Still, the policy and the league’s treatment of the injuries has remained a subject of criticism, particularly when players who suffer apparent injuries return to the ice almost immediately.

On Friday, former NHL right-winger Malcolm Davis wrote a scathing editorial in Toronto’s National Post in which he highlighted the league’s “callous attitude toward head hits and concussions.”

“We never saw a doctor for these injuries, and I rarely knew someone to be formally diagnosed with a concussion,” Davis, who is among players suing the league, wrote. “I certainly wasn’t. During our playing days, the League would lay out the red carpet if a player broke his finger or hurt a muscle in his leg. The treatment for a head injury? Smelling salts and the advice to ‘keep your head up.'”

Concussions, meanwhile, remain an issue at all levels of the sport. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that among high school athletes, boys’ ice hockey poses the second highest rate of concussions, after only football.