(Reuters) – A federal judge in Minnesota on Friday denied class-action status for a lawsuit by former players accusing the National Hockey League of failing to protect them from head injuries and concealing information about the long-term effects of concussions.
The ruling, in a 46-page opinion issued by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson in St. Paul, dealt a major setback to dozens of retired NHL players who have joined a lawsuit similar to one brought against the National Football League (NFL).
The NFL case led to an estimated $1 billion settlement with thousands of former players.
Nelson acknowledged that the NHL plaintiffs faced major costs and duplication of legal effort in pursuing their claims as individuals rather than as a class.
But she cited “widespread differences in applicable state laws” that govern the kind of medical monitoring sought by the players as a remedy, saying such disparities would pose “significant case management difficulties.”
Nelson had sided with the players in two previous key rulings, rejecting bids by the league in 2015 and 2016 to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims altogether.
The retired players in their lawsuit have accused the NHL of withholding information from them about science linking brain trauma to long-term neurological problems and of failing to adopt measures to better safeguard players.
Instead, according to the complaint, the league promoted a culture of extreme violence in which fighting became central to the sport and players inflicted crushing blows against each other and walls of the ice rink.
The lawsuit had proposed creating two classes of plaintiffs. One would consist of all living retired NHL players, and the other of those living and dead who were clinically diagnosed as suffering from neurological disorders linked to head trauma.
The league has disputed the assertions of the plaintiffs and their experts of a definitive causal link between concussions sustained by hockey players and later development of neurological disorders.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Richard Chang)