NHL has ‘no desire’ to settle concussion lawsuit, says internal memo

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn., that the 2016 NHL hockey All-Star game will be held in Nashville. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn., that the 2016 NHL hockey All-Star game will be held in Nashville. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NEW YORK – The National Hockey League has “no desire” to engage in settlement discussions with the players involved in a class action lawsuit that alleges negligence and fraud by the League regarding concussions. 

An excerpt from a League memo, distributed to the Board of Governors at their meeting this week in New York and acquired by Yahoo Sports, makes it clear that the NHL feels there is no "smoking gun" that gives the plaintiffs an advantage in the civil case or a path to settlement like in the National Football League’s concussion suit.  

From the internal NHL memo:

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“While recent signals suggest plaintiffs are anxious to begin settlement discussions (similar to what transpired in the NFL), we have indicated to them no desire to engage in such discussions, primarily because we feel so strongly in the merits of our case and the leadership role (among all sports leagues) we have taken in the study, prevention, diagnosis and management of concussions. 

“In this regard, it should be pointed out that the NFL entered settlement negotiations and reached preliminary agreement before any meaningful discovery had been conducted in their cases – perhaps because of a concern of their ‘facts’ and what discovery in those cases might reveal.

“By contrast, despite extensive discovery to date, we have yet to find any document or other evidence that would tend to support the plaintiffs’ theory of the case.”

The class action suit, which contains several lawsuits filed against the NHL and is being tried in Minnesota courts, is deep into the discovery phase. For the last several months, depositions have been taken from dozens of NHL officials, including commissioner Gary Bettman. The NHL has been ordered to turn over injury databases and videos of head injuries, but has yet to share those with the plaintiffs. 

According to a source with knowledge of the plaintiffs’ case, there have been no substantive talks regarding a settlement with the NHL. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be, given how the National Football League’s concussion case was resolved. 

After years of trying to debunk the research done by doctors and concussion specialists, the NFL decided to settle its suit with former players – to the tune of nearly $1 billion – rather than open up its files to the public and have more incriminating evidence of a potential cover-up come to light.

The NHL has been steadfast in saying the two cases aren't similar, and has used the "science isn't there yet on CTE" argument frequently.

The NHL has made two motions to have the class action suit tossed. The first was denied in March. The second, which Sports In Law reports “makes the argument that the former players collectively bargained away their causes of action,” is still pending and is a rather complex motion to wade through. 

Meanwhile, it remains in the public eye thanks to carefully placed editorials from players involved in the suit like Mike Peluso, editorial page coverage in papers like the Globe & Mail and the tragic deaths of ex-players like Todd Ewen, whose family donated his brain for concussion studies.

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