The National Hockey League (NHL) is no stranger to traumatic brain injury lawsuits, having recently settled hundreds of them, but a new lawsuit filed by a former player puts the blame for his brain injuries in the hands of his team and its doctors. Mike Peluso, a former forward for the New Jersey Devils, filed the federal TBI lawsuit against his team, the team’s then-general manager, and his team’s doctors alleging they all hid the extent of a serious head injury he sustained in 1993. The lawsuit highlights the dangers of severe brain injuries and the lasting impact they have on victims.
Player’s Lawsuit Cites 1993 Game Against Quebec Nordiques for Triggering Head Injury
According to the lawsuit, Peluso was involved in a fight with Quebec Nordiques player Tony Twist on Dec. 18, 1993, during which Peluso hit his head on the ice. Peluso says that fight caused a concussion that has had a permanent impact on his health. Specifically, Peluso says he has suffered nine grand mal seizures, developed early onset dementia, and has total and permanent workplace disability. All these, Peluso says, are signs of possible Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other neurological damage.
In an interview with a Canadian news show, Devils massage therapist Bobby Huddleston said that Peluso was so confused that he dressed, undressed and took a shower at least four times following the Dec. 18, 1993, game. Despite his confusion and concussion, Peluso was back in the lineup only days later and on Dec. 23 once again hit his head on the ice. Peluso maintains the team pressured him to return to play, but he was in no condition to do so or to make that decision on his own due to the nature of his brain injury.
The lawsuit alleges that the first of Peluso’s seizures occurred when he was still a player—two months after the initial injury, during a team workout—but the team’s doctor at the time cleared him to play. Peluso says that the team’s contracted neurologist, Dr. Marvin Ruderman, wrote a report indicating that further trauma to Peluso’s head could result in long-term brain damage, but the team did not inform Peluso of that risk, nor did it take any steps to protect him from further brain injury.
Peluso stopped playing in 1998.
New Jersey Devils TBI Lawsuit Names Team, General Manager, and Doctors
Peluso names the New Jersey Devils, the team’s general manager—Lou Lamoriello—and former doctors involved with the team, including Barry Fisher, Len Jaffe, and Marvin Ruderman in his lawsuit.
“Mr. Peluso now suffers from dementia from injuries to his brain resulting in permanent mental incapacity as a direct result of Defendants’ callous actions after the receipt of the neurologist’s report in January 1994,” the lawsuit argues.
If he had known about his injury’s severity and the risk of long-term damage, Peluso says he would not have continued with the NHL.
NHL Previously Settled Concussion Lawsuits
In Nov. 2018, the NHL and more than 300 retired players reached a settlement in the players’ lawsuits against the league. The lawsuits alleged the league failed to protect players from head injuries and did not warn players about the risks associated with hockey. At the time of the agreement, the Associated Press noted that each player who opted into the settlement would receive around $22,000, with the possibility of up to $75,000 in medical treatment if they tested positive for brain injuries on two or more assessments.
Players had 75 days to become part of the agreement. Those who chose not to opt in can file an individual lawsuit against the league. At the time of the settlement, Mike Peluso sent a text message to Rick Westhead, a correspondent for The Sports Network and a contributor to The New York Times, indicating he would not be part of the agreement.
NHL Players Diagnosed with CTE
Among the concerns associated with traumatic brain injuries is the risk of CTE, a degenerative brain disease that is linked to concussions. In his lawsuit, Peluso argues he exhibits signs of the condition. He cannot, however, provide a diagnosis because CTE can currently only be identified through an examination of the brain after the patient dies.
In Nov. 2018, Kelli Ewen, widow of former NHL player Todd Ewan, went public with information that her deceased husband was diagnosed posthumously with CTE. Ewen was reportedly diagnosed with the condition by a neuropathologist at Boston University, contradicting an earlier decision by a Toronto doctor that Ewan did not have CTE. The NHL used the Toronto doctor’s findings as evidence that the media created a false link between hockey and CTE, although both doctors involved in testing agreed that the initial testing involved only a small section of Ewen’s brain that did not have CTE.
The testing at Boston University is reportedly more extensive than in Toronto. Through more thorough testing, Dr. Ann McKee at Boston University diagnosed Ewen with Stage 2 CTE. Ewen committed suicide on Sept. 19, 2015.
Other former NHL players diagnosed with CTE include Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, and Wade Belak.