U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson has denied the class-action status sought by a potential class of several thousand current and former players suing the National Hockey League (NHL) alleging that the league was negligent in its care and prevention of head trauma and that it fraudulently concealed the long-term impact of head injuries while promoting violent play.

The decision is a significant victory for the NHL.

In a forty-six page order, Judge Nelson acknowledged the potential costs and duplication of effort in pursuing individual claims but focused on the ”widespread differences” in the various state laws regarding the subject and standard for medical monitoring.

She concluded that this issue would “present significant case management difficulties.”

Judge Nelson’s opinion stated that the class could contain up to 5,000 players, and depending on the history of and state of legal residence for each player, the judge said she would be forced to apply a wide range of legal standards based upon the distinct variances of applicable state laws.

Noting that a player who played for a New York franchise like the New York Rangers or New York Islanders would have to show proof of current injury to state a medical monitoring claim, while players who played for a Florida team, or those who have retired there, would not, Judge Nelson concluded, “Given those differences, the court finds that resolving these claims in a single class action would present significant case management difficulties.”

In another victory for the NHL,

Judge Nelson also rejected the players’ argument that New York law should be applied for the entire class because that is where the NHL is headquartered.

Rather than one state law applying, the judge found instead that the law of the state where a player spent most of his career — or for players who moved around often, the state where they currently live — should be applied.

The players had also proposed a class of living players who had been diagnosed with a degenerative neurological condition, such as Alzheimer’s. Similarly, the judge found that the legal issues for this proposed class were also too varied and individual.

Responding to the decision, Attorney Charles Zimmerman, an attorney for the players, asserted that the ruling was only procedural and that the individual players are prepared to move forward. Commenting on the future status of the cases, Zimmerman stated, “We will continue to litigate….on a case-by-case basis. Players with traumatic brain injuries …will prevail as we move forward.”

 

 

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.