November 12, 2018 10:36 PM
The National Hockey League has agreed to pay $19-million to settle lawsuits brought by former players, including more than a dozen from Minnesota, who accused the league of down-playing the risks of concussions and head injuries over several decades, the league announced Monday morning.
In a release, a league spokesperson wrote, “it is in the parties’ respective best interests to receive the benefits of the settlement and to avoid the burden, risk and expense of further litigation.”
However, the league said it “does not acknowledge any liability for any of Plaintiffs’ claims in these cases.”
The settlement could potentially affect as many as 320 former players as long as they have already filed a lawsuit or hired an attorney, according to Charles Zimmerman, a Minneapolis attorney who has led the litigation against the league for the last four years.
After attorney’s fees, each player could receive roughly $22,000, according to Zimmerman.
He said the NHL also agreed to establish a “common good fund” and to provide medical testing and treatment for long-term brain diseases such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Medical monitoring was one of the key demands made by players who originally sued the league in federal court in St. Paul in 2014.
“In that regard, it’s a very good settlement,” Zimmeran said. “I am very pleased that our main goal of the litigation, which was testing and treatment, was achieved.”
In a federal lawsuit filed in 2014 in St. Paul, former players, including former North Stars Jack Carlson and Reed Larson, accused the league of minimizing the risk of CTE while promoting violence and fighting.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS detailed the lawsuit as part of a series called Fighting Back in 2017 after reviewing hundreds of pages of court documents, internal emails and league memos.
Over the course of the suit, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the players’ lawsuit had no merit.
Larson, who lives in Minnesota, says he is glad the league is taking steps to help former players.
“If somebody is diagnosed with full-blown CTE, I don’t know if any amount of money in the world is gonna help them,” Larson said. “But definitely coverage with a specialist might do something to their time remaining on the planet.”
More than 150 players wanted to be certified as a class which would have allowed them to roll their individual claims into one major lawsuit.
But U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson denied that request in July, saying “resolving these claims in a single class-action would present significant case management difficulties."
That meant the former players’ lawsuits would have had to be tried on a case-by-case basis. Settlement talks began shortly after the judge’s ruling.
“I am disappointed that we didn’t get a class action so we don’t involve every player who played… and I’m disappointed that I couldn’t do it faster,” Zimmerman said.
Players do not have to accept the settlement and can proceed with their individual lawsuits, Zimmerman added.
Updated: November 12, 2018 10:36 PM
Created: November 12, 2018 09:36 AM
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