More Discovery Required in NHL Concussion Suit
On May 16, 2016, in the ongoing suit between retired NHL players and the league, a Minnesota Federal Judge ruled more discovery is needed to determine if the former player’s claims are preempted by an NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement and, if so, which one. In January, the NHL filed a motion to stay discovery until their motion to dismiss was ruled on, which the former players opposed. On Monday, a judge sided with the retired players in allowing discovery to continue.
The six retired players named in the suit argue that the NHL is responsible for the effects of brain injuries caused by concussive impacts due to the fact they knew or should have known of the dangers of repeated head trauma. In contrast, the NHL contends that these state-based injuries are governed by the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement and therefore this case should be dismissed under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. This would ensure the issue would be resolved via the arbitration procedure established in the controlling Collective Bargaining Agreement — outside the courts. The former players believe their suit involves actions and negligence on the part of the NHL that exceeds the scope of any Collective Bargaining Agreement which may apply.
In ruling discovery should continue, the judge determined that more discovery is needed to shed light on the exact nature of the retired players claims, when those claims occurred, and if any NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement is therefore relevant. If the players’ claims accrued while subject to a Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that agreement governs such claims, then they are preempted by labor law and the suit must be dismissed. The key questions that remain are whether the fact plaintiffs being retired means they are not subject to any Collective Bargaining Agreement, and whether their evidence presented is sufficient to show a duty of care and negligence beyond the scope of any Collective Bargaining Agreement. More discovery is needed to answer these questions.
The league had sought discovery to be iced; however, this order allows it to continue to skate on.