(Editor’s Note: The following, written by journalist Mark Henricks, was one of nine articles to appear in CLR)
Former longtime National Hockey League enforcer Mike Peluso has sued the New Jersey Nets team, former general manager and team doctors, alleging they conspired to conceal medical reports on the effects of a 1993 fight, causing him to continue his hockey career and suffer serious brain damage.
Unlike concussion litigation alleging the NHL knew of the possibility of brain damage from concussions and other head injuries, the lawsuit alleges the Nets knowingly withheld information about the extent of his injuries that, had Peluso known about it, would have led him to stop playing professional hockey.
Among the allegations is that the team wrongly withheld from the St. Louis Blues medical reports by its own doctors that found he was at serious risk of permanent injury when Peluso was traded in 1997. This was despite the fact that teams are required to forward all medical reports pertaining to a transferred player, the lawsuit claimed. The Blues then did not have the reports to pass along to later teams Peluso played for, including the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, alleges Peluso — a 6’ 4”, 225 lb. bruiser who was “put on the ice to fight,” in the filing’s words — should have been told of the extent of his concussion and other injuries after he was knocked unconscious during a tussle with Quebec Nordiques enforcer Tony Twist on December 18, 1993, in Quebec.
Instead, according to the lawsuit, the Devils responded to Peluso’s headaches, dizziness, nausea and behavior, including repeatedly showering and dressing after the game, by hospitalizing him for two days in Canada, then ordering him back on the ice.
After Peluso suffered the first of several grand mal seizures two months later in February 1994, the filing alleges that the team supplied him with him a bottle of anti-seizure medication but did not relive him of his duties as it should have to prevent future damage.
Instead, quoting from a New York Times article, the lawsuit has team general manager and President Lou Lamoriello blaming the seizures primarily on dehydration and lack of nutrition. And six days later, Peluso was fighting again.
Over the balance of his career, which in its entirety ran from 1989 to 1998 covering 458 games and 240 fights along with 1,951 penalty minutes, according to the lawsuit, Peluso was in a further 100-plus fights until his retirement. “Plaintiff scored only 38 goals in his entire NHL career,” according to the lawsuit. “He was put on the ice to fight.”
Today Peluso, 53, has permanent damage to the right side of this brain, has suffered nine grand mal seizures; has early onset dementia, depression, anxiety and memory loss. “Plaintiff also exhibits all signs of someone suffering from CTE,” the lawsuit advises.
Peluso is currently encumbered by total and permanent disability in the workplace, and has suffered more than $100,000 in medical bills and lost earnings in the millions of dollars, according to the filing.
The lawsuit alleges fraud and fraudulent concealment by the team, including Lamoriello, as well as two team doctors, for concealing medical reports that found the player was at risk of permanent serious brain damage after the Twist fight.
It also levels against some or all of the defendants counts of civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence against and prima facie tort. For ordering Peluso back onto the ice to “continue to engage in harmful and offensive bodily contact with the members of other teams,” the lawsuits includes battery as a seventh count.
As compensation, Peluso is demanding compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit says his claim should be considered despite the state’s workers compensation exclusive remedy provision because his injuries are “beyond anything the legislature intended to immunize under the New Jersey Workers Compensation Act and its exclusive remedy provision.”
The statute of limitations does not apply to the case revolving around events occurring in 1993, according to the filing. “Defendants affirmatively concealed their wrongdoing from Mr. Peluso and withheld critical information and documents,” in the words of the lawsuit. “Mr. Peluso did not have this knowledge and could not have had this knowledge through reasonable diligence.”
“Mike Peluso was one of the toughest and fiercest enforcers in NHL history,” the lawsuit notes. The former forward, according to the filing, was one of only four NHL players to incur over four hundred penalty minutes in one season.
Despite his toughness and willingness to take and give punches for the team, Peluso is entitled to damages because of the actions of the team, its management and team physicians, the lawsuit alleges. “The Defendants’ intentional conduct was done with oppression, fraud, and malice, and with the knowledge that future brain damage was a substantial certainty and with a conscious disregard for Mr. Peluso’s rights,” the filing said