Update: The Predators Deny Injury Allegations Made By Eric Nystrom

Nystrom recently became the 8th former player (and the first in nearly 14 years) to file a workers’ comp lawsuit against the Predators in Tennessee, but now the Predators deny these allegations.

Update: Predators Respond To Complaint

On Friday, the Predators filed a response to Nystrom’s workers’ comp complaint. For more information on the original complaint, see below.

The response from the Predators was filed on January 26th and includes a number of denials to Nystrom’s claims. Included in their response:

  • The Predators deny the allegations that Nystrom made regarding the specific injuries sustained while playing for the Predators. Nystrom claimed three specific injuries were suffered “while acting in the course and scope of his employment as a professional hockey player.” Later in the same paragraph, Nystrom claims to have reported these work injuries to the Predators and that the Predators had knowledge of these injuries. The Predators deny all of these allegations.
  • The Predators deny that they provided “authorized medical care and treatment” for the injuries Nystrom claims.
  • The Predators deny that Nystrom was “temporarily and totally disabled for a period of time” as a result of the work injuries.
  • The Predators admit that a review conference was held in September 2017 which resulted in an impasse.
  • The Predators claim that Nystrom’s right to compensation is “forever barred by the applicable statute of limitations.” This goes hand in hand with their denial of Nystrom’s injuries, as does this:
  • The Predators claim that Nystrom failed to give adequate notice of his alleged injury “to the extent his condition pre-existed, did not arise out of employment [with the Predators], and/or was in no way aggravated or worsened by his employment [with the Predators.]/

That last point is crucial. The Preds appear to be saying either that the injuries did not occur during his time with the Preds, or that they pre-existed, or that they were not made worse while playing for the Predators. At the end of the response, the Predators request a dismissal of the complaint, and if not granted, they’ve requested a hearing.

This is an interesting development. It seems as if the team is unwilling to roll over and allow Nystrom to collect anything more than he’s already been paid. This is, as you can see below, a change in strategy from their previous workers’ comp complaints.

We’ll make sure to update the story as soon as we learn more.

(The original story below was published on January 17th, 2018)

A few weeks ago, The Tennessean reported that Eric Nystrom was suing the Predators over work-related injuries. The alleged injuries outlined in the lawsuit were sustained over the course of his four-year contract with the Predators from 2013 to 2016.

If you were like me, you had some questions. Namely, what does this really mean? What does Nystrom actually claim in his lawsuit? And how common is this for a former Predators player? Is the team sued for workers’ comp often? How much might Nystrom get in a settlement?

After some digging, I think I’ve found some perspective as we wait for this lawsuit to meander through the legal system.

As we probably all remember, Nystrom missed significant time during those years as a Predator. While he played 79 games in his first season, he played only 60 games in ‘14-15 (missing the playoffs) and only 46 in ‘15-16 (he played in one playoff game). Nystrom’s contract was bought out by the Preds on June 29th, 2016, after some efforts by the front office to trade him.

Nystrom’s lawyer is Gregg Ramos, who has been the plaintiff attorney in every single workers’ comp case against the Predators that I could find. He’s also represented several Tennessee Titans players. Incidentally, he won Nashville Scene’s Nashvillian Of The Year Award in 2008, mostly for his work fighting the “English Only” charter amendment. He’s the real deal when it comes to personal injury, workers’ compensation, and employment law in Nashville.

In the Tennessean article, he said:

“One of the most important things for my professional athletes is the right to lifetime medical benefits... it’s not really about money. It’s to preserve that right to lifetime medical benefits.”

Ramos predicted a trial would result in the payment of lifetime medical benefits.

”We’ll get to the same place; it just takes a little more work now,” he said.

But what kind of “place” might this lawsuit get to?

It helps by first looking at what Nystrom’s lawsuit actually says. I obtained a copy of the complaint from the Davidson County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office and from there was able to surmise the following.

Eric Nystrom is suing the Nashville Predators for:

  • unpaid temporary total disability benefits
  • reasonable and necessary medical expenses, including lifetime medical benefits, for injuries that occurred between 2013 and 2014
  • to be awarded permanent disability benefits under Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Law
  • any costs associated with the lawsuit/

The injuries sustained, as outlined in the lawsuit are as follows:

  • a left hip injury, including leg (Sept 4th, 2013)
  • a concussion (Nov 15th, 2013)
  • a cervical injury (Jan 12th, 2014)/

Just in case you were wondering how the Predators reported these injuries when they occured, there are plenty of reports around this time calling Nystrom’s injuries both “upper body” and “lower body” and also just “injured.”

We are used to this sort of pageantry from the Predators and other NHL teams by now, but it’s amusing to see proof of how blatantly unhelpful and possibly even inaccurate those terms usually are.

Anyway, Nystrom’s complaint goes on to state that the Predators acknowledged the claims as “compensable,” meaning they agreed they were injuries that that should be treated and covered under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Law.

Nystrom also claims to have retained a permanent partial disability as a consequence for these actions, which relates to part of his plea for compensation.

A Benefit Review Conference—an arbitration of sorts for workers’ comp cases—was held in September 2017. Nystrom claims the conference resulted in an impasse.

Nystrom’s lawyers have since filed a motion to use two standard medical reports, including an Independent Medical Evaluation by Dr. Thomas J. O’Brien and an accompanying Curriculum Vitae for O’Brien, as evidence in the lawsuit. The Predators objected to the use of the independent medical evaluation. The reason for their objection is not given (a reason isn’t required in this situation) but one potential reason could be because the Predators want O’Brien to actually appear at trial, rather than have O’Brien’s report stand as unchallenged evidence. You can’t cross-examine a document.

As of today, the lawsuit is still pending and it will likely be several months before we learn the settlement amount the Predators must pay Nystrom.

Which leads me to the final question: what sort of precedent is there for former Nashville Predators suing for workers’ compensation in Tennessee?

Previous Cases

In looking through court records, I found seven instances of former players suing the Predators for workers’ compensation, all of which took place between 2000 and 2004. Nystrom’s complaint is the first in almost 14 years to be filed in a Tennessee court against the Preds.

Presumably the Predators (and their insurance company) paid in full all treatment for the injury during the course of the players’ employment, as was indicated by the plaintiffs in these complaints. In many cases—again, as indicated in the complaint—the Predators also paid for future treatment and any medical costs associated with the future impact of these injuries.

The dispute occurs in how much the Predators paid versus how much the players wanted, of course. In many cases, the player was compensated for a percentage amount of “permament partial impairment/disability” during their employment, but now the player wants more. For example, the player may have been compensated for 5% of the impairment to their shoulder, but now they want to be compensated for 25% of that impairment.

Two of these players you will probably remember. The other five you probably won’t.

Jayson “Jay” More

A 1st round draft pick by the Rangers in 1987, More had a decent NHL career. A defensemen who played 406 games in the NHL (mostly for the San Jose Sharks), he totaled 72 points in his career and even played in 31 playoff games. He played for the Predators in the inaugural 1998-99 season, signing as a free agent that summer.

More sustained the injury, reportedly a concussion, on December 10th against the Sharks and never played again. The worker’s comp complaint was filed in September 2000. The result was a settlement for More in the amount of $125,660.

Darren Turcotte

A journeyman center with over 400 NHL points in his career played his final two years in Nashville. His career ended after suffering two injuries in 1999, one on January 18th and the other on November 29th, to his “lower right extremity.”

Turcotte filed a workers comp case in November 2000. A settlement was reached in the amount of $91,970 for Turcotte.

Here are some other lesser-known players who have settled worker’s comp cases with the Predators. Most of these guys were injured while playing with the Predators’ AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals, but because they received weekly paychecks from the Nashville Predators, the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Law still applied.

  • Phil Crowe: A winger who broke into the league with the Kings in 1993 finished with nine career points in 93 NHL games. He played for the Predators—primarily with the Admirals—during the 1999-00 season before his season ended with an injury. He injured his lower back on January 6th, 2000 and filed suit in September 2001. He was awarded $37,870.
  • Jay Legault: Drafted by the Ducks in 1997, Legault was a winger who found himself on the Admirals in 2001-02. He injured his left shoulder on December 14th, 2001. After filing suit in January 2003, he was awarded $27,888.
  • Bill Bowler: A center who played nine games for the Blue Jackets in 2000, Bowler spent nearly 10 years in the AHL, eventually landing with the Admirals in 2001. He suffered a hernia injury on February 7th, 2002. He filed suit in August 2004 and received a settlement of $75,000.
  • Martin Bartek: Bartek was a left-winger who was drafted in the 8th round by the Predators in 1998. He never made it to the NHL, but he did play 62 games with the Admirals in 2001-02. On March 13th, 2002, Bartek injured his head and left shoulder. He filed suit in December 2003 and was awarded $18,592.
  • Konstantin Panov: A left-winger drafted by the Predators in the 5th round of the 1999 draft, Panov also never made it to the NHL. He played 82 games with the Admirals between 2001 and 2003. He suffered a left shoulder injury on November 20th, 2001. He filed suit in July 2004 and was awarded $27,888. /

It’s worth pointing out that while all of the workers’ comp cases filed in Davidson County against the Predators may provide context for this particular team, it doesn’t provide context within the league overall. Have other teams had to deal with former players suing for this sort of thing? If so, what are those settlements like? Have other teams had to negotiate their way out of paying for the long term effects of injuries?

I don’t know, but it’s something worth looking into.

In the meantime, we wait to see what happens with Nystrom. This suit might take a while. He is the highest paid former player to sue the Predators for workers’ comp, so I would imagine the team will fight this as much as possible. They will probably end up paying him something, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up paying him more than the $125K that More got in 2000.

The long term effects of this suit might take years to form. Will the team revisit their current insurance policy? Will more players like Nystrom come forward to lay claim to long term monetary relief for their injuries? There are certainly plenty of players that have been seriously injured while playing with the Predators. Matt Lombardi and Blake Geoffrion come to mind.

We’ll see where this goes from here.