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The National Hockey League (NHL) trying to eject two retired players from concussion lawsuit

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19 June 2017

The National Hockey League is urging the Minnesota federal court to act now to remove two former players from the proposed class action. The NHL wants its bid for summary judgement for claims made by Gary Leeman and Bernie Nicholls to press on. The league argues the three-year statute of limitations bars these two players’ claims, who retired in the late 1990s. Both Leeman and Nicholls serve as class representatives of their respective classes. The NHL argues the move for summary judgement is appropriate now, instead of when the court considers whether the ex-players could serve as class representatives, since the league has the “prerogative to seek judgement as to individual named plaintiffs.” The league further argues that discovery shows the players knew of their injuries more than three years before they filed suit. Even if Leeman and Nicholls are deemed time barred, there are still other representatives for their classes.

The suit started off in 2013, when nine former players filed suit, including Gary Leeman. Four more players, including Bernie Nicholls, joined in early 2014. There are over a 105 former NHL players who joined the suit. If the motion for class certification is granted on July 11, then the class will include all living and deceased NHL players. These players are seeking monetary damages and medical monitoring for neurological disorders, much like the NFL concussion settlement.

A key difference between the NFL 2013 settlement and this current suit against the NHL is that the NFL acknowledged, though grudgingly, the link between CTE and head injuries. The NHL is skeptical about correlation between playing hockey and CTE. While the NFL has spent millions of dollars on concussion research, Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, stated there is a gap in CTE research and whether CTE is due to repeated concussions remains unproven.” Boston University, a leading researcher of CTE, is being sued by the NHL. The NHL requested BU’s research on the over 200 athlete brains BU tested for CTE and were denied. The league wants to “probe the scientific basis for published conclusions.”

In 2015, the NHL’s motion to dismiss the multidistrict litigation was dismissed. League attorneys argued the players’ collective bargaining agreement covered the issues and this was more of a matter for the National Labor Relations Board. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied that motion, partly because the plaintiffs are retired players and no longer subject to the CBA. Those retired players, such as Nicholls, say the suit is not about money, but is about looking out for each other. The ex-players argue they were not properly treated nor warned of the dangers and are now being neglected by the league.


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