Minnesota Federal Court Ices NHL Players’ Concussion Litigation

On July 13, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota declined to certify a class of retired National Hockey League (“NHL”) players seeking long term medical monitoring costs from the NHL for concussion injuries they sustained while playing for the NHL. The NHL players’ cause of action alleged that the players sustained serious concussive injuries as a result of the NHL’s simultaneous promotion of violent play (otherwise prohibited in other elite and professional hockey leagues) and the NHL’s failure to adequately warn players both of the risk of sustaining such injuries as a result of NHL play and their long term health consequences.

The NHL players’ suit follows on the heels of a similar concussion injuries action filed by retired National Football League (“NFL”) players against the NFL.  In April 2015, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania certified the NFL players’ class and granted final approval to a $765 million settlement. The NFL settlement – reached in 2014 as a result of an intensive, two-month mediation undertaken while the court intentionally deferred rendering its ruling on the pending motion to dismiss – provided funding for medical exams and compensation to injured NFL players.  The Third Circuit affirmed the Pennsylvania District Court’s class certification and final settlement approval rulings in 2016.

In the NHL case, the Minnesota district court denied the NHL’s motion to dismiss in March 2015 – roughly a year after the Pennsylvania court had conditionally certified the NFL player class and granted preliminary approval to the NFL players’ settlement.  In denying the NHL players’ motion for class certification, the Minnesota district court rejected the players’ argument that New York law should apply on a class-wide basis to the question of liability because the NHL was incorporated, headquartered, and established the challenged rules and policies in New York.  Instead, the district court found each individual player’s residence and/or home team state controlling.  And because medical monitoring claims substantively and widely vary by state – thus injecting predominately individualized issues that “would present significant case management difficulties” – the district court determined that a concussion injury class of NHL players could not be maintained.

While the court’s denial of class certification effectively provides the NHL with a power play, we will have to wait and see how the players respond.

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Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP focuses on complex civil litigation, including securities, antitrust, wage and hour, and consumer class actions as well as shareholder derivative and merger and transactional litigation.  The firm is headquartered in New York, and maintains offices in California, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

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About Brad Demuth

Brad Demuth is a partner in the firm’s antitrust practice group, resident in the firm’s New York office.  Earlier in his career and before joining the plaintiffs bar, Brad was among the defense lawyers who, in 2007, represented the National Hockey League in Madison Square Garden, L.P. v. NHL, litigation that resolved favorably for the NHL.

Posted by Bradley J. Demuth

Partner at Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP
New York Office
Tel: (212) 983-9330
Fax: (212) 983-9331
Email: bdemuth@faruqilaw.com
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