(Reuters) - The family of deceased NHL player Steve Montador is suing the league, charging that it failed to properly inform him about the risk of long-term brain damage, according to papers filed in U.S. federal court in Chicago on Tuesday.
Montador, found dead in his Toronto-area home in February at age 35, played 10 seasons in the National Hockey League with six teams and the defenseman sustained 15 documented concussions during his career, according to the statement of claim.
The suit, filed on behalf of his son, Morrison, and other family members by the player’s father, Paul, said Montador suffered from depression, memory problems and erratic behavior and engaged in 69 on-ice fist fights during his NHL career.
“During regular season NHL games, preseason NHL games, NHL practices and morning skates prior to NHL games, Steven Montador sustained thousands of sub-concussive brain traumas and multiple concussions, many of which were undiagnosed and/or undocumented,” the suit claimed.
The league has not yet filed a statement of defense.
“The NHL continues to ignore the lasting problems caused by multiple head traumas suffered by its players,” Paul Montador said in a statement sent to The Sports Network.
“Tragedies like that of my son Steven will continue until the problem is addressed. The NHL knows, but denies, that years of repeated head injuries cause long-term brain problems.”
Montador played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres during his NHL career.
The Canadian defenseman decided several years before his death to donate his brain to the Canadian Sports Concussion Project.
In May, three months after his death, researchers confirmed Montador’s brain had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the brain disease that has been linked to repeated head trauma.
The suit alleged the NHL had long known that its players were susceptible to developing CTE and other degenerative brain diseases as a result of the fighting it allowed and promoted and “steadfastly refused to eliminate from its game.”
Many of the same claims have been made by a group of more than 100 former NHL players who charge that the league put its financial interests over the health of the players.
The Montador family is represented by lawyer Bill Gibbs, who is also representing the family of Derek Boogaard, a one-time NHL enforcer who died in 2011 at age 28 following an overdose of alcohol and painkillers.
Researchers found Boogaard’s brain also showed signs of CTE.
The Montador lawsuit assails the NHL for continuing to market and profit from fighting.
“The NHL still refuses to eliminate fighting,” the lawsuit says. “Eliminating fighting is a rules issue that can be easily implemented by the NHL without any collective bargaining.”
In April, the National Football League reached a settlement of a lawsuit brought by former players over concussions that could cost the NFL $1 billion and a U.S. federal appeals court is mulling whether the settlement figure is sufficient.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes