NHL sued by former players over concussions

“Hopefully this lawsuit will shine a light on the problem and the players can get the help they deserve,” said Rick Vaive, one of the former players involved in the suit.

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Saying the National Hockey League knew or should have known that repeated head blows can injure the brain, 10 former players filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the league over concussions.

The ex-players seek compensatory and punitive damages from the NHL in the lawsuit, filed in US District court in Washington, claiming negligence by the NHL led players to ignore treatment causing more serious injury.

The players included Rick Vaive, who scored 441 goals in 876 games for four clubs between 1978 and 1992.

“Hopefully this lawsuit will shine a light on the problem and the players can get the help they deserve,” Vaive said.

The lawsuit claims the NHL’s inaction led to diminished interest in helmet safety and rule changes that could have minimized head injuries much sooner as well as having players return from concussions too quickly.

“This action arises from the pathological and debilitating effects of brain injuries caused by concussive and sub-concussive impacts sustained by former NHL players during their professional careers,” the suit reads in part.

Such former stars as Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya had their careers affected by the aftermath of blows to the head.

Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, who scored the gold medal-winning goal for Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup NHL crown, has been hampered by concussions.

He missed the last 41 games of the 2010-2011 season after two hard blows to the head during games and sat out the first 20 games of the 2011-2012 campaign, then missed three more months when symptoms returned, finally coming back for good in March of last year.

The NHL has cracked down on blows to the head in recent seasons, banning deliberate hits to the head in 2011, although the former players claim it was too little and way too late to help them.

“While the subject matter is very serious, we are completely satisfied with the responsible manner in which the league and the players’ association have managed player safety over time, including with respect to head injuries and concussions,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

“We intend to defend the case vigorously and have no further comment at this time.”

The lawsuit comes less than three months after the National Football League reached a record $765 million settlement over concussions lawsuits filed by former gridiron players.

The ex-NHLers lawsuit claims that players can take nearly 1,000 blows to the head in a season considering the number of games and practices.

“Such repeated blows result in permanently impaired brain function,” according to the lawsuit.

The players named as plaintiffs include Gary Leeman, Brad Aitken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richie Dunn, Warren Holmes, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart, Morris Titanic and Vaive.

Aitken, Banks, Holmes and Titanic combined to play only 98 NHL games, although they spent seasons in minor leagues, some as reserves for the NHL squad.

According to the lawsuit, players were not aware that scientific evidence had linked brain injuries to long-term neurological problems and they were not told of the dangers of repeated brain trauma by the NHL.

“The NHL had known or should have known of this growing body of scientific evidence and its compelling conclusion that hockey players who sustain (brain injuries) are at significantly greater risk for chronic neuro-cognitive illness and disabilities both during their hockey careers and later in life,” the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit says the NHL began studying head injuries in 1997 but to bolster its financial bottom line “engaged in a long-running course of fraudulent and negligent conduct” by “failing to make any statements of substance on the issue while claiming to need more data and delaying for 14 years the publication of a report which didn’t mention (mild traumatic brain injury).”