Former Blackhawks player, Lightning coach Steve Ludzik sues NHL over concussions

Scott Holland Jun. 3, 2015, 10:26am

On the eve of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Final involving the organizations for which he played and coached professionally, former Chicago Blackhawks standout Steve Ludzik has added his name to a growing list of former professional hockey players suing the NHL in connection with concussions suffered during his playing career.

On June 1, Ludzik, a Canadian citizen, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Chicago, naming the NHL and its board of governors as defendants.

Ludzik’s suit maintains he “sustained numerous concussive and sub-concussive brain traumas” during his career. He said the league “allowed and encouraged” him to return to games after suffering concussions and in many cases did not document head trauma events.

In the suit, Ludzik noted he contracted Parkinson’s disease, caused or exacerbated by his hockey career. He is seeking unspecified damages. Ludzik is requesting a jury trial for his complaint, a two-count action alleging the NHL failed to warn of significant risk of brain damage and accusing the league of misrepresenting the risk of brain damage.

“Instead,” the complaint asserts, “the NHL promoted a culture in which players such as Ludzik were encouraged to return to play despite experiencing signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury. In fact, the NHL knowingly concealed from Ludzik the risks of short-term and long-term cognitive, mental health and neurological deficits and diseases associated with repetitive brain trauma, including, but not limited to, the risks of returning to practice and games too soon after sustaining a traumatic brain injury.”

The Chicago Blackhawks drafted Ludzik in 1980 with the 28th overall pick. He played 413 NHL games with the Blackhawks from 1982-1990, plus 11 games for the Buffalo Sabres. Now 54, Ludzik also served as a NHL coach, including two seasons as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lighting, the Blackhawks’ opponent in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

In November 2013 a group including dozens of former NHL players filed a class action complaint in U.S. District Court in Minnesota alleging the NHL failed to protect them against the risks of the repeated head trauma they sustained during their pro careers. Those plaintiffs generally allege the league failed to warn players of short- and long-term effects of repeated concussions and head trauma, failed to adequately care for players who received such injuries and promoted and glorified unreasonable and unnecessary violence leading to head trauma.

On March 25, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied the NHL’s motion to dismiss the primary complaint based on the sufficiency of the allegations.

Ludzik’s lawsuit references public comments of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who spoke in May regarding the class action suit and asserted “no evidence” connects brain trauma sustained during an NHL career and later-in-life neurological impairments, which Ludzik maintains is “contrary to numerous historical and current scientific studies demonstrating such evidence.”

Ludzik’s complaint asserts Bettman’s recent remark “tolls any applicable statute of limitations.”

The NHL may also soon face legal action from the family of former Chicago Blackhawk Steve Montador, a former Blackhawk who died in February at age 35. Montador’s brain was posthumously found to have widespread chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition associated with repeated hits to the head. According to the New York Times, which reported Montador’s family intends to sue the league, Montador is the fifth former NHL player to be diagnosed with CTE, a condition which can be positively diagnosed only after death.

Ludzik is represented by attorneys Thomas A. Demetrio and William T. Gibbs, of the firm of Corboy & Demetrio, and Richard R. Gordan of the Gordon Law Offices, all in Chicago.

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