The NHL has been involved in a long-standing lawsuit with a group of nearly 150 former players over their treatment of concussions and today has reached a tentative settlement to resolve the issue and avoid any further court proceedings. The NHL admits no liability in the settlement, which may approach a total of $19MM.
The majority of the proposed settlement would go toward medical care and monitoring rather than directly to the former players, which the leagues calls a “fair and reasonable resolution… in the parties’ respective best interests” and which several players’ attorneys stated was the main focus of the lawsuit. This includes the coverage of neurological testing and assessment, as well as a $75,000 fund for future treatment for those players who test positive on two or more relevant tests. Each player involved in the lawsuit will also receive a minimum $22,000 cash payment. The settlement additionally establishes a common fund of upwards of $2.5MM from which retired players mat draw upon in the future.
This lawsuit and subsequent settlement draws many comparisons to a similar suit filed by NFL players. The NFL recently settled a lawsuit brought by former players in regards to concussions and CTE. It will cost the league more than $1 billion dollars over the next 65 years, but covers more than 20,000 players. Many will see this settlement result for the NHL as relatively inexpensive, as they did for the NFL. Both leagues had the benefit of a major causation problem, wherein the players could not possibly prove that their concussion-related health issues were due to injuries sustained in the respective leagues as opposed to high school and college football for the NFL and junior, college, and minor league hockey for the NHL. This idea lends itself the the NHL’s continued reluctance to admit to any liability and instead try to frame their position as a good will gesture. The NHL also reached their settlement further along in the legal process, after the case had already been determined to fall short of class-action designation. This gave the NHL further leverage over the players and an advantage that the NFL did not enjoy.
While the early reactions to the settlement seem positive from both sides, not everyone involved will be happy. One outspoken member already is Daniel Carcillo, who took to Twitter to encourage his fellow players involved in the lawsuit not to accept the settlement. Carcillo believes that the NHL is in fact liable for concussion-related issues and that the doctors who will conduct testing and determine further treatment for the players are the same ones that he alleges ignored concussions in the first place. It remains to be seen whether Carcillo will be able to sway any others. Each player may opt in to the settlement individually during a 75-day window, but the NHL holds an option of their own to terminate the settlement with all players if any decide to opt out.
This tentative settlement is a major step forward in the NHL’s concussion lawsuit and will set a major precedent for concussion care in hockey and beyond. However, there is still a ways to go in this case and this is likely not the last we have heard of this ongoing issue.