The NHL has reportedly reached a settlement with players who alleged they suffered severe, life-changing brain injuries while playing for the hockey league and further claimed the league did not do enough to protect them from harm. The lawsuit is purportedly worth around $19 million, much less costly than an NFL brain injury settlement that involved a billion-dollar agreement. Numerous former NHL players have come forward arguing their time in the NHL caused massive brain trauma that affected their quality of life.
Lawsuits Alleged NHL Knew of Dangers but Did Not Protect Players
The lawsuits filed by the former players—146 as plaintiffs and 172 others who retained counsel—alleged they suffered severe brain trauma while playing for the league and that the league knew about the risks associated with repeated concussions but failed to warn or protect the players. The NHL, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied there is any link between hockey-related head injuries and degenerative brain diseases. In agreeing to the settlement, the NHL has not admitted any liability.
That stance appears to run contrary to an email from 2011, in which NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly suggested that there was at least a link between fighting and mental health issues.
“Fighting raises the incidence of head injuries/concussions, which raises the incidence of depression onset, which raises the incidence of personal tragedies,” Daly wrote in the email (as quoted in The New York Times).
Despite that email, in 2016, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman responded to questions from Senator Richard Blumenthal on the Senate’s Consumer Protection subcommittee by stating that science has not shown a link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.).
In contrast, during a congressional round-table discussion, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety policy, Jeff Miller, was asked whether there was a link between football and degenerative brain disorders. Miller responded, “certainly, yes.”
Players filed a motion requesting the lawsuit be given class-action status, but U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied that motion in July 2018, noting that there were vast differences in state laws regarding medical monitoring that would make dealing with the claims as a class too difficult. Had the class been certified, more than 5,000 former players would have been allowed to join the lawsuit, which would have put significant pressure on the league.
Concussion Settlement Reported to Cost NHL Only $18.9 Million
Players who opt-in to the settlement will receive around $22,000 and free neurological testing and assessment. Those who test positive on two or more brain injury tests will receive medical treatment of up to $75,000. A Common Good Fund worth around $2.5 million will also be set up to support retired players who were not involved in the lawsuit. Finally, the NHL will pay almost $7 million for the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Players have 75 days to opt-in to the settlement, but if all 318 plaintiffs or their estates do not opt-in, the NHL can terminate the agreement.
Some players were happy with the settlement, even noting that they wanted medical coverage more than money. Not all players were satisfied with the agreement, however. Daniel Carcillo, a former Blackhawk player, tweeted his concerns and told players not to accept the settlement, which he called “insulting.”
Forbes published documents from a players’ attorney suggesting the agreement was worth around $18.9 million, with $6.9 million going to the players. If those figures are correct players would each receive around $22,000.
Unlike the NFL’s agreement, which covers all retired football players—not just those who were part of a lawsuit—the NHL agreement only covers those who were named as plaintiffs in the suit.
The NHL concussion settlement does not resolve a class action claim—the lawsuits that were settled were individual suits that represented multiple players—and does not prevent other players from filing their own lawsuit. Furthermore, any players who opt out of the settlement could bring their own claims against the NHL.
Former NHL Players Diagnosed with CTE
In May 2018, Jeff Parker became the seventh NHL player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that scientists have linked to repeated brain trauma. CTE can currently only be diagnosed after death, making it difficult to know how many current or former players already have the condition. Parker died at age 53. His family said he showed signs of brain trauma, including issues with his memory and problematic behavior.