Former NHL Player Sues New Jersey Devils For Concealing Risk of Head Injury

On January 3, 2019, former National Hockey League (“NHL”) player, Michael Peluso (“Peluso”), sued the New Jersey Devils (“the Devils”) in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging that the professional hockey team failed to disclose the risk of long-term neurological issues resulting from further head injuries.

According to the complaint, the Devils concealed a 1994 neurologist report containing the risk from Peluso, who received many more head injuries before the end of his career. Peluso now suffers from dementia, a seizure disorder, and permanent brain damage.

Peluso accuses the Devils of choosing “secrecy, putting their win-loss record and profits far ahead of Mr. Peluso’s health. …The team defendant intentionally agreed to, and did, conceal Mr. Peluso’s condition as well as the risks of repetitive head trauma from him in order to continue making billions of dollars by profiting from fighting and violence.”

Over his approximate nine-year career, Peluso played 458 NHL games as an enforcer, a position the complaint describes as one in which Peluso was meant to “protect the skilled players, by initiating and engaging in bare-knuckled fist fights with the fighters from the opposing team.” He participated in 240 such fights throughout his NHL career.

On December 18, 1993, Peluso was knocked unconscious and sustained memory loss and a concussion requiring hospitalization following a game against the Quebec Nordiques. He quickly returned to practice and games, but suffered a grand mal seizure less than two months later on February 14, 1994.

Defendant Dr. Marvin Ruderman examined Peluso following the seizure and reported that the event was “most likely related to a post traumatic seizure as a consequence of the cerebral concussion in December 1993.” Ruderman also reported that he did not think that “the participation in playing hockey itself poses an excessive risk for the development of further seizures unless he were to sustain head injuries.”

Peluso alleges that Dr. Ruderman sent his report to the Devils’ team president and general manager at the time, defendant Lou Lamoriello, as well as to the team doctor, defendant Dr. Barry Fisher, and the team orthopedic surgeon, defendant Dr. Leonard Jaffe. The defendants allegedly failed to relay the contents of Dr. Ruderman’s report to Peluso during his career and instead encouraged him to keep playing as an enforcer.

The complaint alleges that the “team defendant, and the doctors, including defendant Ruderman, despite knowing the likelihood of repeated head trauma to enforcers like Mr. Peluso, willfully and callously disregarded Mr. Peluso’s safety by agreeing to conceal, and concealing, the severe risk posed to Mr. Peluso’s health if he continued playing as well as the extent of his injury.”

Defendants did not provide Peluso or any of the subsequent NHL teams for which he played with a copy of Dr. Ruderman’s report during his career.

Peluos alleges that “Defendants intentionally caused injury to the plaintiff in that after they became aware of the Ruderman report, they directed and encouraged plaintiff to continue to play hockey in the style and manner in which he had previously played, knowing that any additional blows to plaintiff’s head would cause him to incur permanent brain injury and knowing that plaintiff was certain to sustain additional blows to the head.”

The legal team at Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah, LLP (“SFMS”) has significant experience litigating employment matters.  If you have any questions regarding this subject or this posting, please contact Nick Lussier or Chiharu Sekino.  We can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

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