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(Reuters) — A U.S. District judge in Minnesota this week refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by ex-players accusing the National Hockey League of failing to protect them from head injuries and withholding information about the long-term effect of concussions.
The class-action lawsuit filed by six retired players presents similar claims as a legal action brought against the National Football League that has resulted in an estimated $1 billion settlement with thousands of that league's ex-athletes.
In the NHL case, U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson, in a 47-page opinion made on Monday and unsealed on Wednesday, declined to dismiss the case against the league, setting the stage for it to proceed to a possible trial.
But she left the door open for the lawsuit to be dismissed at a later stage, depending on what evidence emerges.
Judge Nelson rejected arguments from attorneys for the NHL that protections against concussions should be dealt with in collective bargaining agreements with the players union and not decided in court.
“Even if some or all of plaintiffs were subject to a CBA at the time” they suffered their head injuries, the league “acknowledges that different versions of the CBAs contain different language,” Judge Nelson wrote.
“There are major fact questions that cannot be resolved until a fuller record is developed” as the case proceeds, she added.
Judge Nelson's ruling follows a similar decision last year, when she dismissed other arguments by the NHL's attorneys to throw the case out of court.
“Based upon our review of Judge Nelson's opinion, with which we respectfully disagree, the opinion merely defers to another day a resolution of the preemption issues underlying our motion,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.
The retired players in their lawsuit accused the NHL of withholding information from them about science linking brain trauma to long-term neurological problems and of failing to adopt measures to better protect players.
Instead, the league promoted a culture of extreme violence, where fighting is central to the game and players inflict crushing body-on-body hits against the sides of ice rinks, according to the ex-athletes' attorneys.
Some of the ex-players originally sued in 2013 and their claims in 2014 were consolidated with lawsuits filed by others.
A federal appeals court on Monday approved a class action settlement that may cost the National Football League $1 billion.