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The National Hockey League reportedly reached a settlement with Kelli Ewen, the widow of deceased former NHL player Todd Ewen, after she filed a wrongful death claim against the company. Back in Apr. 2019, Ewen sued the NHL alleging Todd’s suicide in 2015 was linked to the league allegedly downplaying the potential long-term consequences of repeated brain trauma and profiting from a culture of on-ice violence.
The lawsuit reportedly said she was seeking “compensatory damages and all other damages permitted by law.” TSN reported that Ewen confirmed via a text message to them that she had agreed to a settlement, though declined to elaborate. Filed in U.S. federal court in California, a lawyer for the NHL reportedly wrote that the parties held mediation on Mar. 7 and “reached an agreement in principle to settle this litigation.”
The lawyer for the NHL reportedly wrote in the court filing: “Since that time, the parties have been working to memorialize their settlement in a written agreement, the terms of which will be confidential. That process is ongoing as the parties ensure that the written agreement satisfies all applicable testamentary and other requirements. The parties expect a final agreement to be signed in short order and anticipate submitting the appropriate documents to the court for dismissal of the case shortly thereafter.”
Todd’s case has played a key role in the debate over chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and concussions in hockey. CTE is the term used to describe a very rare brain degeneration disorder likely caused by repeated head traumas and is only diagnosed at autopsy by studying sections of the brain. The disorder has been found in the brains of people who played football and other contact sports, as well as military personnel who were exposed to explosive blasts. Some signs and symptoms of CTE are thought to include difficulties with thinking, physical problems, emotions, and other behaviors. It’s thought that these develop years to decades after head trauma occurs. Researchers do not yet know the frequency of CTE in the population and do not understand the causes. There is no cure for CTE.
For his part, Todd fought his way through a dozen NHL seasons, and Ewen said her husband battled depression, anxiety, and memory loss for the last 20 years of his life. He retired from the NHL following the 1996-97 season. Though there are no specific symptoms that have been clearly linked to CTE, some of the possible signs include depression, short-term memory loss, emotional instability, and suicide thoughts or behavior. On Sept. 19, 2015, the then 49-year-old Todd killed himself in the basement of his family’s home in St. Louis.
In 2016, Toronto neuropathologist Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati declared that Todd did not have CTE, which prompted NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to cite Todd’s case in correspondence with U.S. lawmakers. Bettman argued that the science over the brain-withering disease was inconclusive and that Todd killed himself because media hype led him to believe he must have the disease.
However, Boston University scientist Dr. Ann McKee announced in 2018 that Dr. Hazrati had missed detecting it and that she had actually found Stage 2 CTE in Todd’s brain. And while Hazrati has said she accepted those findings, the NHL has never retracted its statement about Todd.
Former NHL players Dan Carcillo and Nick Boynton currently have outstanding lawsuits against the league over its approach to marketing violence and managing player brain injuries, as does Paul Montador, the father of the late NHL player Steve Montador.