The National Hockey League hoped that lawsuits brought against it by former players regarding concussions sustained would simply pass into oblivion via a request to dismiss them. That won’t be the case for the NHL.
According to Darren Heitner, United States District Judge Susan Richard Nelson has denied the NHL’s request to dismiss the suits, opening the door for the “discovery” phase of the suits.
This doesn’t guarantee that the class of players listed as the plaintiffs have legitimate claims against the NHL, however. Nelson felt that discovery was necessary to ascertain whether or not the claims made by the players are sufficient and how those relate to the language of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association that was in effect at the time.
One of the two classes of players who filed a suit is a group of players who have not been diagnosed with any neurological disease, and it was the collective bargaining agreement that the NHL hoped would allow the cases to be dismissed. The NHL argued that legal precedents state that the CBAs barred the players from filing suit, and it’s easy to understand why the NHL wanted to avoid any further proceedings.
Discovery is something that could be harmful to the NHL from a public relations standpoint. If any evidence surfaces that the NHL knowingly passed on taking actions to prevent players from receiving concussions or failed to educate players about the risk of brain damage inherent in their line of work, that would be grounds for the suit to move forward.
This is where the NHL may take a page from the National Football League’s legal playbook. The NFL recently settled a similar suit to avoid the discovery phase. In the settlement, the NFL admitted no fault for concussions sustained by players and was able to seal documents that could have been harmful.
Whether or not the groups of players who have brought the suits will be willing to settle remains to be seen, but the result of the NFL suit strengthened the belief that when a legal battle between billionaires and millionaires happens, the bigger money usually wins out.
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