Ex-players sue NHL over concussions

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Updated: 11/25/2013 7:36 pm

Washington, DC (SportsNetwork.com) - Saying the National Hockey League either did know or should have known that repeated blows to the head can cause brain damage, 10 ex-players filed a lawsuit Monday against the league over its handling of concussions.

Plaintiffs in the suit, filed in Washington federal court, seek compensatory and punitive damages in a trial by jury.

The suit claims "negligence" by the league led players to ignore treatment and to suffer "serious injuries and damages."

It claims inaction by the NHL led to reduced interest in helmet safety and rules changes that could have minimized head injury, and to players returning too quickly from concussions.

"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 suits says.

Deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly said the league is aware of the suit and intends "to defend the case vigorously."

"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," Daly said in a statement.

The suit argues players can suffer "close to 1,000 or more" hits to the head in one season of practices and games and that "such repeated blows result in permanently impaired brain function."

The suit comes less than three months after the NFL reached a $765 million settlement over concussion suits filed by former players.

The 10 NHL players named as plaintiffs are Gary Leeman, Brad Aitken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richie Dunn, Warren Holmes, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart, Morris Titanic and Rick Vaive.

Four of the players -- Aitken, Banks, Holmes and Titanic -- played a combined 98 NHL games. The others had lengthy careers.

Leeman and Vaive were both 50-goal scorers for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Vaive, who played 876 games for four teams between 1978-92 and scored 441 goals, said many former players are suffering debilitating head injuries caused by their time in the league.

"Hopefully this lawsuit will shine a light on the problem and the players can get the help they deserve," Vaive said, according to the personal blog of a lawyer whose firm is working on the case.

The suit says the players were unaware scientific evidence has long linked brain injuries to long-term neurological problems and that they were not told by the NHL how dangerous repeated brain trauma is.

"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 suit says.

The NHL began studying head injuries in 1997, but the suit claims the league, in order to improve its financial situation, "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)."

In 2011, the NHL implemented a rule against intentional checks to the head, but the suit says it was slower to adapt than other hockey leagues.

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