PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - The family of the late Steve Montador is suing the NHL over concussions and other brain injuries the defenceman suffered during his playing career.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. federal court, alleges that the league collected data on concussions as far back as 1997 but failed to warn Montador about the dangers.
Montador died in February, and an autopsy showed the 35-year-old suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease that can be caused by repetitive brain trauma.
In the lawsuit, the family alleges that Montador suffered "thousands of sub-concussive brain traumas" along with multiple concussions.
The 34-page complaint states that the NHL "failed to keep (Montador) reasonably safe during his career and utterly failed to provide him with crucial medical information on the permanent ramifications of brain trauma."
Montador played 571 regular-season and 43 playoff games for the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks.
His father, Paul, is named as the plaintiff in the lawsuit and the NHL and NHL board of governors as the defendants.
The allegations against the league have not been proven in court.
"We had heard through media sources that that was likely a possibility, but I'm not going to comment on it," commissioner Gary Bettman said at the league's board of governors meeting. "We're not litigating publicly."
"The claims made are without factual or legal merit," added deputy commissioner Bill Daly in an email. "We won't have any further comment."
The NHL is also the defendant in a class-action lawsuit filed by several former players about concussions.
"... This league is in denial — the NHL still refuses to accept the fact that its game creates permanent, progressive brain damage," Montador family lawyer Thomas A. Demetrio said in a statement. "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."
In this complaint, Montador's family says he experienced "significant memory issues, sleep disturbances, chronic pain, a substance abuse problem, photosensitivity, mood and behavioural changes, decreased appetite, anxiety and depression" during and after his NHL career.
Over the past two decades, the NHL created a concussion study group and has taken steps to better monitor and diagnose concussions. The league has a defined concussion protocol in place, which includes spotters who are able to notify team medical staff about potential concussions.
"I think there is no question that the concussion protocol is working," Bettman said Tuesday. "The spotter program as we refined it is working. The board (of governors) was showed a couple of videos, one was what we use to educate the players on concussions and two what we use to educate the spotters. We're proactive in dealing with this issue and I think the board was very comfortable with what they were hearing."