The irony was inescapable. The same day the richest and most powerful men in hockey gathered to discuss concussion protocol, the family of former NHLer Steve Montador filed a lawsuit against them alleging they had not done enough to protect him from the effects of multiple concussions that led to his retirement, significant memory loss, depression, anxiety, a substance abuse issue, and, ultimately his death at the age of 35.
Had Montador not died in February, his name and not his father’s would have been the one on the lawsuit that was filed Tuesday against the NHL and the league’s board of governors today in Chicago. Montador had every intention of suing the league when he was alive, but that task and crusade is now up to his family.
“The Montador family is really following through on Steve’s desire to follow through on this thing,” said William Gibbs of Corboy and Demetrio, the Chicago firm representing the family in the lawsuit. “I spoke with Steven on a number of times prior to his unfortunate passing and Steve certainly was worried and cared about himself, but he knew there are a lot of others out there who desperately need assistance. He felt very strongly that the league needed to, No. 1 admit there’s a problem and No. 2, address the problem. So the Montador family is really just following through on his wishes to pursue something.”
The 37-page Complaint at Law alleges that during his playing days, Montador’s concussions were “multitudinous and frequent,” pointing out that he had at least three documented concussions in a six-month span in 2003, at least four in a nine-month period in 2010 and at least four in another three-month span in 2012. It also points out that he took part in 69 on-ice fights during his career. The lawsuit also alleges that as a result of the repetitive brain traumas, Montador experienced, “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 Concussion Research Project examined Montador’s brain after his death and concluded that Montador’s brain had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and that, “CTE caused, or contributed to cause, Steven R. Montador’s death.”
It’s important to note, however, that one does not die of CTE and that Montador’s actual cause of death will likely emerge if the trial progresses. An autopsy has been done on Montador, but the results of that are not made public and the Montador family has not yet disclosed the cause of death. Dr. Charles Tator, who examined Montador’s brain said the CTE Montador had was significant. He also said Montador is the youngest his team has seen to have CTE. “It wasn’t the worst case we’ve seen,” Tator said. “But for 35, it was startling to see how widespread it was. It wasn’t just a little bit. It was in spades.”
The crux of the lawsuit, though, is that Montador’s family alleges that the league knew that, “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,” and that it, “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.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly said there is no concrete evidence yet that repeated blows to the head and multiple concussions definitely lead to CTE. That’s an assertion Gibbs would like to see change.
“The NFL finally, as we’re going to see in a movie that comes out Christmas Day (called Concussion) after much consternation and difficulty in acknowledging that reality, finally acknowledged it,” Gibbs said. “It’s frustrating to me to hear the NHL keep saying, ‘We don’t know. More study is needed.’ If Gary Bettman is concerned about the players playing in the NHL, he should be telling them that repeated hits to the head can cause – can, not will – later-in-life problems.”
See the entire statement of claim below: