The family of the late Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador sued the NHL on Tuesday, accusing the league of failing to keep him reasonably safe and not providing him with crucial medical information on the permanent ramifications of brain trauma.
Montador, who played for six NHL teams, died in February at age 35 of an undisclosed cause at his home in Mississauga, Ontario.
His brain was donated to the Canadian Sports Concussion Project and an autopsy showed widespread chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
CTE has been found in the brains of dozens of former NFL and NHL players. Linked to repeated brain trauma, it is associated with symptoms such as memory loss, impaired judgment, depression and progressive dementia.
The 37-page lawsuit alleges the NHL gratuitously conducted scientific research and engaged in the discussion about head injuries to give players “the false impression that it was working on their behalf to keep them informed and up-to-date on all medical and scientific advancements related to repetitive head trauma.” Instead, the suit says, the NHL failed to inform players about the long-term dangers of repeated brain trauma, and demonstrated a conscious disregard of players’ long-term health.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Monatdor’s son, parents and brother and sister. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email the “claims made in the lawsuit are without factual or legal merit.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was at the Board of Governors meeting in Pebble Beach, California, declined comment and said the league wasn’t going to litigate the case publicly. He previously has said that a link between concussions and CTE hasn’t been established, a position ridiculed by some doctors and brain trauma experts.
Thomas Demetrio, an attorney for the Montador family, said the NHL, like the NFL, is in denial.
“The NHL still refuses to accept the fact that its game creates permanent, progressive brain damage,” he said. “Instead, the NHL disingenuously gives its players a false sense of security by leading them to believe that repetitive head trauma in the NHL will not cause brain damage or resulting addiction or depression issues.”
The NHL is facing a federal class-action lawsuit filed by former players seeking unspecified damages over concussion-related injuries. The plaintiffs make arguments similar to those of Montador’s family and say the league promoted violent play that led to their injuries. The suit, a combination of several lawsuits by more than 200 former NHL players, was filed in Minnesota in October 2014.
Montador, who played in 641 games with Calgary, Florida, Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo and Chicago, and was involved in 69 fights, sustained “thousands of sub-concussive brain traumas and multiple concussions, many of which were undiagnosed and/or undocumented,” the lawsuit says.
He sustained at least three concussions in six months in 2003, at least four in nine months in 2010 and at least four in a three-month span in 2012, according to the suit. It says repetitive brain trauma led to significant memory issues, sleep disturbances, chronic pain, a substance abuse problem, photosensitivity, mood and behavioral changes, anxiety and depression.
The lawsuit alleges the NHL has long known that its players involved in fights were susceptible to brain damage, depression or substance abuse because of the extreme physical and emotional toll fighting puts on them but failed to put an end to the problem.