The NHL reached a settlement in a concussion lawsuit filed by more than 100 former players that alleged negligence for dealing with head injuries and claimed that the league concealed the long-term risks of head injuries. The league announced the settlement on Monday, though it still is not admitting any liability for the players' claims.
"The NHL does not acknowledge any liability for the Plaintiffs' claims in these cases," the NHL's statement read. "However, the parties agree that the settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution and that it is in the parties' respective best interests to receive the benefits of the settlement and to avoid the burden, risk and expense of further litigation."
The announcement comes after months of court mediation.
The settlement calls for a payment of at least $22,000 for settling plaintiffs and settling unfiled claims. Besides the cash payout, the NHL's settlement involves neurological testing and assessment for players paid for by the league, as well as an administrative fund to pay for the costs and up to $75,000 in medical treatment for players who test positive on two or more tests. The settlement also calls for a "Common Good Fund" that would support retired players in need. That would include players who did not participate in the litigation.
The NHL also agreed to pay almost $7 million in plaintiff legal fees.
A comprehensive settlement amount was not available, but one source involved in the talks told ESPN the payout was "nowhere close" to the billion-dollar agreement the NFL reached with its former players in 2013.
There were 146 names listed as plaintiffs in the NHL settlement, though players involved can decline settlement and seek personal injury claims. According to the terms of the settlement, the NHL can pull out of the agreement if all the players involve don't participate. Players have 75 days to opt in or out.
Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, who has dealt with concussion problems throughout his career but is not involved in the lawsuit that includes only retired players, told reporters after practice the league, players' association and others must all have a role in the issue.
"It's something as players that we know that risk,'' Crosby said. "Obviously, we know a lot more now than we did before, even a lot more than we did when I had my first one. It's something you hope they can mutually agree on. It's something that I think is important from both sides.''
The former players accused the NHL of failing to better prevent head trauma. They also alleged the NHL did not warn players of such risks while promoting violent play that led to their injuries.
One retired player who was part of the lawsuit is calling a tentative resolution an "insulting attempt at a settlement."
Daniel Carcillo, who played nine NHL seasons and joined the lawsuit in June, posted several messages of displeasure with the settlement on his verified Twitter account. Carcillo urged his fellow former players, "Do not accept this settlement for the concussion lawsuit," citing in part that they'd see the same NHL/NHLPA doctors to determine eligibility for treatment.
Carcillo also tweeted asking Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky for help, saying that "lack of pressure from former players is a direct result of this insulting attempt at a settlement."
In July, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied a bid for class-action status, which would have created one group of all living former NHL players and one group of all retired players diagnosed with a neurological disease, disorder or condition. Had they succeeded, more than 5,000 former players would have been allowed to join the case.
"It's not surprising after the NHL prevailed on the class-action motion that there would have been movements in this direction,'' NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told reporters in Toronto. "I'm glad for the parties that it's all over. Hopefully, people can go on with their lives and now we can perhaps deal with these issues with the NHL without having to worry about the effect on the litigation.''
Attorney Stuart Davidson, who represents retired players, said the decision to deny class-action status was a "watershed moment" in the case, which was filed in 2013. Davidson says players lost a lot of leverage from that point.
John Vrooman, a sports economics professor at Vanderbilt, said the decision to deny class-action status severely limited potential damages to the NHL owners, as well as benefits for players. He called the settlement a "lopsided victory for the owners."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.