The family of former Chicago Blackhawks player Steve Montador has joined officially the growing ranks of those suing the National Hockey League over the league’s promotion of concussion-inducing violence and alleged indifference to the repeated head trauma to its players – trauma the family says eventually contributed to his death in early 2015, at the age of 35, two years after his retirement from the league.
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Montador’s father, Paul Montador, acting as representative of his son’s estate, filed suit in Chicago federal court against the NHL, alleging the league’s “insistence upon preserving and promoting violence” in the game, including fighting among players on the ice, has contributed to cases of brain trauma, known scientifically as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and premature death among current and former players.
“The NHL has long known that its players were susceptible to developing CTE and other neurodegenerative brain diseases as a result of the fist-fighting it allowed and promoted, the hard hits it encouraged and marketed, and/or the blows to the head that it steadfastly refused to eliminate from its game,” Montador said in the complaint. “But, the NHL, armed with vastly superior managerial, medical, legal and other resources to gather, analyze, and understand sub-concussion, concussion and head injury data, with unilateral authority to regulate equipment, enact rule changes, mete out discipline, mandate injury protocols, and provide warnings to protect its players from the short and long term consequences of concussions, failed to keep Steven R. Montador reasonably safe during his career and utterly failed to provide him with crucial medical information on the permanent ramifications of brain trauma.”
The lawsuit filed by the Montador family had been awaited for some time. An autopsy following his death had confirmed the suspicions of the former player and his family of the presence of CTE in Montador’s brain.
Through a dozen seasons in the NHL, beginning in 2001 with the Calgary Flames and ending in 2012 with the Chicago Blackhawks, spanning 571 games playing for six franchises, Montador developed a reputation as a physical defenseman. And, according to his complaint, he suffered greatly, suffering “thousands of sub-concussive brain traumas and multiple concussions” during his playing career. The complaint said these included at least three concussions in six months in 2003, at least four concussions in nine months in 2010, and at least four concussions in three months in 2012 while Montador played with the Blackhawks.
His NHL career ended when he suffered a severe concussion in 2012, and never fully recovered.
He retired in 2013 after playing for the Blackhawks’ affiliate Rockford Icehogs.
The CTE from which he suffered produced a range of symptoms and health concerns, including “significant memory issues, sleep disturbances, chronic pain, a substance abuse problem, photosensitivity, mood and behavioral changes, decreased appetite, anxiety and depression both during and after his NHL career,” the complaint said.
Montador was found dead in his home near Toronto on Feb. 15, 2015.
His family said Montador long suspected CTE was to blame for his health and behavioral problems. Following the autopsy confirming Montador was the fifth former NHL player to be officially diagnosed with CTE, the Montador family had indicated they intended to sue the NHL. CTE can only be diagnosed after death.
In the complaint, the family particularly targeted the NHL’s glorification of gratuitous violence in the game, and particularly its refusal to either reduce on-ice fighting among players, or remove fighting from the game altogether, despite a known well-established correlation between CTE and repeated blows to the head, such as occurs during the fistfights that can occur on a regular basis on the ice during NHL games.
The Montador family complaint said the “NHL demonstrated an utter indifference and conscious disregard of NHL players’ long-term health” by, among other things, “creating, fostering and promoting a culture of extreme violence, including head hits and violence from fighting” and not educating players on the actual risks of developing CTE from repeated concussions and other head trauma.
The complaint alleged the NHL has steadfastly refused to reduce or eliminate fighting from its games solely “because of a fear of diminishing revenue” from fans who the league believes desire to witness the violence.
“For almost a century, while unnecessary violence, including brutal fist-fighting, has permeated NHL games, the NHL has been on notice that multiple blows to the head can lead to long-term brain injury, including but not limited to memory loss, dementia, depression, addiction and CTE and its related symptoms,” the complaint said. “Yet, the NHL said nothing to its players about any of it.”
Rather, the complaint said the NHL chose to keep under wraps decades of research related to concussions and brain trauma, allegedly placing its players at risk.
Montador’s lawsuit comes as the latest such legal action against the league. In 2013, a group including dozens of former NHL players filed a class action complaint in federal court in Minnesota leveling many of the same accusations against the league as has the Montador family.
Earlier this year, former Blackhawks player Steve Ludzik also filed suit over the same issues.
The Montador family, just as Ludzik, is represented by the firm of Corboy & Demetrio and the Gordon Law Offices, both of Chicago.