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Policy: Law

Class action filed against NHL for allegedly concealing concussion dangers

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Sports,NHL,Law,Legal Newsline

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline) – A lawsuit has been filed against the National Hockey League after a former player claims the NHL concealed the dangers of concussions and did not pass rules designed to reduce the risk of brain injury until recent seasons.

Jon Rohloff, who played for the Boston Bruins as a defenseman from 1994 until 1997, brought the suit against the NHL, claiming he suffered multiple head traumas during his NHL career that were improperly diagnosed and treated by the NHL. Rohloff was never warned by the NHL of the negative health effects of head trauma, he says.

Hagstrom

Hagstrom

“Former NHL players are uniting to send one resounding message: they signed up to play hockey knowing that they might get injured and dinged, but they did not sign up for brain damage,” according to a complaint filed July 29 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

Over the course of an NHL season, a player will sustain hundreds of hits to the head during games, contact in training camp practices and from contact in some regular season practices, according to the suit.

Rohloff claims these concussive and sub-concussive impacts, particularly when multiplied over the course of an NHL career, result in impaired brain function or deadly brain disease.

The NHL knew this, but did not take measures to adequately inform or protect its players, according to the suit.

“In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist became the first doctor to identify a brain condition termed ‘Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy’,” the complaint states. “Dr. Omalu discovered the condition, marked by dark brown protein staining on the brain, when studying the brain of Mike Webster, a retired National Football League player and member of the NFL Hall of Fame who died at age 50 after years of severe depression and dementia that had reduced him to a state of homelessness.”

Rohloff claims by 2007, Omalu had identified CTE in the brains of four deceased former NFL players and he determined the brain damage he found in the players was the same condition found in punch-drunk boxers such as those studied by Dr. Harrison Martland in 1928.

By 2009, the first retired NHL player was diagnosed with CTE, according to the suit, and neuropathologists at Boston University diagnosed retired NHL player Reg Fleming as the first hockey player known to have the disease.

‘The NHL knew or should have known of this growing body of scientific evidence establishing that hockey players who sustain repetitive concussive and sub-concussive events are at significantly greater risk for chronic neuro-cognitive illness and disabilities both during their NHL careers and later in life,” the complaint states.

Rohloff claims despite having this knowledge beginning with the Martland study, the NHL, for decades, has failed to inform, warn or protect its players from repetitive traumatic brain injuries, including concussive and sub-concussive head injuries.

The NHL has failed to inform or warn players of the risk to their lives and the devastating long-term effects of those injuries, according to the suit.

“The NHL affirmatively concealed specific anecdotal evidence from players and scientific evidence about the health risks and consequences associated with head injuries received while playing in the NHL,” the complaint states. “The NHL also refused to institute policies and protocols to protect its players from concussive and subconcussive injuries sustained during practices and games.”

Rohloff claims rather than inform its players regarding the risks of head injuries, the NHL openly encouraged severely injurious conduct such as fighting and extreme violence as a regular part of the game.

The class is defined as all living persons who signed a contract to play in the NHL as a hockey player, their spouses and dependents, and the estates of deceased NHL players, who retired, formally or informally, from playing professional hockey with the NHL or any member club and who are not seeking active employment as players with any NHL member club, according to the suit.

Rohloff is seeking class certification and compensatory damages. He is being represented by Richard M. Hagstrom, Michael R. Cashman and Shawn D. Stuckey of Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason LLP; Lewis A. Remele, J. Scott Andresen and Jeffrey D. Klobucar of Bassford Remele.

The case has been assigned to District Judge Donovan W. Frank.

U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota case number: 0:14-cv-03038

From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at classactions@legalnewsline.com.

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