The New Jersey Devils have been sued by a former player who accuses the team of covering up a report warning that he was at risk of long-term neurological impairment from the blows to the head he suffered during on-ice brawls.
Michael Peluso, a member of the Devils from 1993-96, was the team’s ”enforcer,” protecting high-scoring teammates by fighting with players from opposing teams. He says in the lawsuit that the Devils went to great lengths to conceal from him a team doctor’s 1994 report issued after Peluso was punched in the head and knocked unconscious in a fight with Tony Twist of the Quebec Nordiques.
Peluso, who played with six NHL teams from 1989 to 1998, is now 53 and suffering from seizures and early onset dementia. He says he has spent more than $100,000 on medical bills and seizure treatments since he retired from the NHL. He said in the suit that his future medical care will cost millions of dollars over the course of his lifetime.
The report, by neurologist Marvin Ruderman, said Peluso should not receive any further trauma to the head or he will suffer seizures and long-lasting brain damage. But the team did not take any measures to protect Peluso after receiving the report, or tell him to take precautions. And when the Devils traded Peluso to the St. Louis Blues, it excluded the report from a transfer of his medical records, the suit claims.
After Ruderman’s report was presented to the team, Peluso went on to play in 317 more games and participate in 100 fights until his retirement, the suit says. He received blows to the head in nearly every game and at most practices. The repetitive head trauma caused irreparable harm to his brain, the suit says.
“Rather than prevent his head injuries and simply provide him with the information, [the Devils] continued to allow him to play and suffer numerous further blows to the head,” the suit said. The Devils “chose secrecy, putting their win-loss record and profits far ahead of Mr. Peluso’s health.”
In 2012, Peluso brought a workers’ compensation case against the Devils and three other teams in California, and he obtained a copy of the report through that case in 2016. Peluso is also a plaintiff in a mass tort suit in the District of Minnesota, claiming the National Hockey League failed to warn its players of the long-term effects of repeated concussions. Both cases are still pending, said Howard Silber, a lawyer in Westlake Village, California, who represents Peluso in the suit against the Devils.
In his confrontation with Twist at the Devils-Nordiques game, Peluso suffered a concussion and was hospitalized for two days before returning to the ice. The Devils’ coach ordered him to come back to work immediately, but at his first game back against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Peluso was again hit in the head in a fight with opposing player Ken Baumgartner, the suit said. And two months later, having participated in games and practices regularly after suffering the concussion, Peluso suffered a grand mal seizure. A New York Times article at the time quoted coach Lou Lamoriello as attributing the seizure to dehydration.
Besides the Devils, Ruderman, Lamoriello and two other team doctors, Barry Fisher and Len Jaffe, are named as defendants. The suit says the defendants are estopped from relying on any statutes of limitations defenses because of their concealment of wrongdoing.
Pete Albietz, vice president of communications and team operations for the Devils, said the team would not comment on the suit.