The Devils Withheld Medical Records That Were Requested For Mike Peluso's Legal Battle For Workers' Compensation
TSN- The New Jersey Devils “wrongfully withheld” medical records from a former player who alleges brain injuries he suffered playing in the NHL have left him permanently disabled, a workers’ compensation appeals board in California has ruled.
Fourteen years after he played his final NHL game, one-time Devils enforcer Mike Peluso filed a workers’ compensation claim in San Francisco in 2012. Three of the teams he played for during his career — the Devils, St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames — and their insurance companies are listed as defendants in the proceedings.
But in a Nov. 15 decision obtained by TSN, California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board commissioner Marguerite Sweeney ruled that the Devils “wrongfully withheld” two documents that Peluso’s legal team says are crucial to his case.
One document is a Dec. 18, 1993, medical report confirming Peluso suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the ice during a fight. The second document is Feb. 21, 1994, report from a neurologist warning the Devils that Peluso could have further seizures if he suffered more head trauma.
Those reports surfaced in May 2016 and have been referenced by medical experts who testify Peluso is permanently disabled. The Devils said those reports should not be allowed into evidence because they weren’t filed within the appropriate period.
“These documents were responsive to valid discovery requests… but were inexplicably not produced by defendant New Jersey Devils,” Sweeney wrote in her decision. “Due to defendant New Jersey Devils’ dereliction of its discovery obligations, these documents clearly ‘were not available’ to applicant prior to the close of discovery.”
“The defendants knew that the probable consequences of requiring that [Peluso] go back out on the ice and perform his job as an enforcer would involve serious injury to its employee,” Stuckey wrote in a court filing. “The neurologist sent his report to the NJ Devils, its general manager Lou Lamoriello, team doctor Barry Fisher, team orthopaedic surgeon Leonard Jaffe, and warned them explicitly that the only way [Peluso] could avoid long term neurological damage, and a chronic seizure disorder was if he did NOT sustain any more hits to the head."
I don't want to cast doubt on a serious allegation when I have all of zero knowledge what happened behind closed doors, but this kind of sounds like a witchhunt to me. I know that's something a life long fan of an organization that is being accused of costing a former player his future well being with negligence that borders on flat out disregard would say, but consider this. How can I criticize the Devils franchise for being careless with their concussion records from the 90's when everyone that pays attention to the NFL and NHL knows that concussions didn't exist until approximately 2010? I have reason to believe that the "lost records" were really just accidentally tossed into the trash can two decades ago when the higher-ups who received them were still treating written accounts of head injuries like you or I treat any heaping load of horseshit that's handed out by a Jehovah's Witness.
In all seriousness, it's absolutely inexcusable for the Devils - or anyone else for that matter - to have engaged in foul play when the mental and physical health of a man that put his body on the line for their organizational benefit was at stake. I hope that Mike Peluso gets all the help that he needs and it sucks that the team under which he became a fan favorite could have been even mildly responsible for denying him of it.
That said, I do not appreciate the implication that Lou Lamoriello and the Devils staff valued winning hockey games over keeping their 4th line grinder conscious and coherent. There's simply no way you can convince me that Mike Peluso - a guy who lasted nearly a decade in the NHL without scoring a single memorable goal - was coerced into playing when it was unsafe for him to do so. We are talking about someone that was the "muscle" on a historically violent trio called 'The Crash Line'. His entire job description was to rattle skulls, so I have a tough time thinking he would have taken it in stride if told his skull could no longer take the rattling. Mike Peluso would probably respond to being told he had brain damage by trying to fix it through impact correction reminiscent of a man trying to come to gripes with the batteries in the TV remote dying. He was a fighter in every sense of the word, and you need not look further for proof of that than him lasting nearly 500 games in the NHL as nothing more than a battering ram on skates.
That doesn't let the Devils off the hook for attempting to cover up the mistakes of their past with some selective disclosure, but it also doesn't mean that knew the ramifications of those mistakes when they made them. Acting like the Devils knowingly took years off the life of Mike Peluso is a level of revisionist history that would make the idiots that claim Scott Stevens was a dirty player after judging his highlights by 2016's standards look like chronological experts. I know it sounds absolutely asinine with what we know now, but brain bruises were only viewed as slightly more serious than any other type of contussion in the early 90's. An organization should be criticized for failing to admit that they used to think that way 15+ years prior when conceding such could fiscally assist a guy that never failed to fist-cally assist his teammates. They shouldn't, however, be criticized for being just as stupid - in retrospect - as literally every other executive in their line of work was. I am not nearly biased enough to claim that the Devils are completely innocent here, but this story is more of a sign of much-less-educated times than an indictment on a proud franchise.
P.S. Here's a detailed breakdown of what those records held. Beforewarned: It's scary, scathing, and was undeniably all-too-common...
On Dec. 18, 1993, Peluso, then 28, fought Quebec Nordiques player Tony Twist during a game at Le Colisee in Quebec City. Peluso hit his head on the ice and was knocked unconscious. A doctor’s report from that night concluded he had a concussion.
Days after his injury, Peluso returned to the Devils’ rink for the team’s Dec. 23, 1993, game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Devils’ head coach allegedly told Peluso the Leafs had six “linebackers” and Peluso was needed to protect skilled players.
“During that game, [Peluso] was hit in the head by opposing player Ken Baumgartner and sustained further head injury,” Peluso’s lawyer argued in a July 13, 2016, court filing.
Two months later, on Feb. 14, 1994, Peluso collapsed while working out on a treadmill at a Florida hotel.
Four days later, on Feb. 18, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told The New York Times that Peluso’s seizure “was primarily due to dehydration and lack of nutrition.” The Times also reported the Devils were concerned Peluso’s seizure could be related to his Dec. 18 concussion.
Peluso was sent to see neurologist Marvin Ruderman. In his Feb. 21 report sent to Lamoriello, the team’s trainer and doctor, Ruderman wrote: “[Peluso] likely experienced a major motor seizure on 2/14/94, which I believe is most likely related to a post-traumatic seizure as a consequence of the cerebral concussion in December 1993. I do not believe this was related to dehydration…I do not believe that the participation in playing hockey in itself poses an excessive risk for the development of further seizures unless he were to sustain head injuries.”
On May 12, 2016, a lawyer representing former NHL players who are suing the league over its approach to concussions, provided Peluso’s lawyers with the medical report from Dec. 18, 1993, and the neurologist report from Feb. 21, 1994.
The only explanation the Devils have offered is that the Dec. 18 medical report must have been stuck to one of the records and their lawyer must have missed it as a result, said Shawn Stuckey, Peluso’s lawyer. He said the Devils have provided no explanation for the undisclosed Feb. 21 neurological report.
In a court filing, Stuckey also wrote that the Devils team trainer gave Peluso the anti-seizure medication Tegretol after his Feb. 14 seizure. No documents regarding the handout of that medicine were produced by the Devils, Stuckey wrote.