(Editor’s note: The opinions in this guest blog post belong solely to the author)
By Marc Weissman
Well, first off, I’m not surprised in the least that legal action against the league has become more prevalent.
When Derek Boogaard died from an overdose of Oxycontin—while having undergone treatment within the NHL’s rehab program, btw—it immediately raised doubts in my mind about whether he was solely responsible for his own death or perhaps the league’s program was somehow negligent for not being aware of telling symptoms earlier on. Then when Rick Rypien and Wade Belak died moths later—with causes being labeled as depression and suicide—the idea that the league was now facing a “chronic” problem and not just an exception to the rule—especially given all three players were known “enforcers”—that definitely foretold potential litigation coming from, at the very least, the deceased players’ families.
The fact is, more and more well-documented, scientific evidence has been published about the short and long-term, life-debilitating effects of concussions, regardless of their severity. And despite all the “marketed” steps the NHL has taken towards reducing the incidence of hits to the head and fights (aka “repeated blows to the head”), the bottom line is these action do still occur, and at relatively alarming rates compared to most sports, with the possible exception of football. And since the NHL has obviously yet to ban fighting outright, any so-called “good” lawyer can easily argue that the league has not done nor did not do all it could to reduce those incidences, and thus can be held at least partially responsible for a player’s reduced quality of life or, tragically, his death. So again, not surprised that the number of law suits has grown in number more recently.
Now, for those using the argument: “Well, these players KNEW what they were getting into by playing pro hockey in the first place” or “If they didn’t want to get injured, just pick another line of work”, from a legal standpoint, it’s not as simple as that. Yes, hockey is a dangerous job. And so is construction work, for example. Or welding. Or working in a nuclear power plant (think Erin Brockovich.) But no matter what “dangerous” job is considered, the onus to make the working conditions “as safe as possible” lies on BOTH the employee AND the employer. Quite simply, that’s why workmen’s comp exists. If you are hurt on the job—even while falling from a dangerous scaffold on a construction site—you, the employee, are STILL potentially entitled to workmen’s comp if you can show that the scaffolding was unsafe in some way or perhaps your helmet was not certified, etc.
The point is, there are unique circumstances for every injury’s occurrence while doing ANY job, and the known level of risk for a particular job is but one factor in the overall case(s). How well the employer does at mitigating those risks is another factor and ALWAYS debatable, especially when you consider a sport like professional hockey.
So again, can’t say I’m surprised that it has become as litigious as it has … nor that it will continue to be as more and more “victims” come forward. That’s just the reality of the medical, legal and business scenarios are they exist today.
Photo by Getty Images.