NHL Playoffs 2002
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Injured woman needed brain surgery news services

The NHL had medical evidence showing that fans are more likely than players to leave a game with stitches, yet it did nothing to increase protection for spectators, according to a lawsuit to be filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit, the details of which were reported by the Chicago Sun-Times in Wednesday's editions, on behalf of a woman who suffered brain injuries after she was struck by a puck at a Blackhawks game in January, cites a study of hockey fan injuries by two emergency-room doctors. It showed that during 127 NHL games at the MCI Center in Washington, 122 fans suffered puck injuries -- nearly one per game. Of the injured fans, 90 required stitches and 45 were taken to emergency rooms. The research found similar results at other arenas.

Results of the study, conducted by David Milzman and Andrew Bachman, were given to the NHL two years ago, the suit alleges. But the league failed to increase safety measures to protect fans.

"This research was presented to the NHL and their insurers, and they ignored it completely," said Timothy Whiting, who will file the suit in Cook County Circuit Court on Wednesday on behalf of Elizabeth Hahn of La Grange Park, Ill. It names the NHL, Blackhawks and United Center as defendants.

Hahn was sitting in the eighth row behind the net when a shot to the corner sailed over the glass and hit her in the side of the head. Surgeons had to saw open her skull to remove a blood clot on her brain.

The legal action comes in the wake of the death of 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil, two days after she was hit in the head by a puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets game.

Whiting is pressing the suit despite an Illinois law specifically granting hockey stadiums immunity from liability for spectator injuries, saying the law makes an exception in the case of "willful and wanton" conduct by stadium operators.

"We think that willful and wanton conduct will be shown clearly by the fact that they knew of the propensity for these pucks to not only land in the stands but injure spectators, yet did nothing about it," Whiting said.

The Blackhawks referred questions on the matter to NHL general counsel Bill Daly, who could not be reached Tuesday.

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