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Hockey Player Paralysed after Match Collision Plans to Sue NHL

By Principal Lawyer, Clinical and Medical Negligence

A professional ice hockey player who sustained a severe spinal cord injury is planning to sue the National Hockey League (NHL) in the United States.

Ice Hockey Spinal Injury

Denna Laing of the NWHL’s Boston Pride suffered the devastating injury on New Year’s Eve during an outdoor women’s ‘Winter Classic’ game against the Montreal ‘Canadiennes’ at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

The incident occurred when the 24-year-old forward accidentally stepped on a stick and collided with the boards during the game. She was taken from the ice on a stretcher and rushed by ambulance to the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

According to a statement issued by her parents, Laing suffered a severe spinal cord injury and she currently has no feeling in her legs and limited movement in her arms. They said they hoped that she would soon be moved from intensive care to a rehabilitation centre.

There were reports that during a practice session on the makeshift rink before the women’s game, players had complained that the ice surface was ‘slushy and dangerous.’ One Pride player described the playing conditions as “awful”.

Temperatures during the game in which Laing was injured were reported to have reached above seven Celsius and the actual incident is said to have occurred on a section of ice where the sun had been shining for much of the afternoon.

Although players signed a general liability waiver before the game, it was apparently based on the ice being in a ‘playable condition.’ Laing is also expected to sue the NFL New England Patriots team, the owners of the stadium.

Sport-related injuries are responsible for a large number of spinal cord injuries, particularly those affecting children and young people. Sports most commonly associated with SCIs include skiing, snowboarding, motorcycling, rugby, hockey and gymnastics.

Sport-related spinal cord injuries are normally the result of a fall or blow that damages a section of the spinal cord. Typically, someone who sustains such an injury will suffer some degree of paralysis below the point of injury.

While there is generally a degree of risk inherent in most sports, the best way to safeguard against any sports-related injury is to wear appropriate protective equipment. If a spinal fracture is suspected following an injury then spinal immobilisation using collars, head blocks and spinal boards is key to ensuring the prevention of any secondary injury.

It is very important that anyone who hasn’t received training in handling such situations does not attempt to move an injured player, and on no account must helmets or other protective equipment be removed before specially trained health professionals have properly assessed the condition of the injured party.

Fortunately, these days there is much wider knowledge about correctly handling spinal cord-injured patients, as incorrect techniques could significantly worsen their injuries.

Proper management immediately after an incident like this, particularly in regard to correct ambulance care is paramount to avoid further injury or risk exacerbating any existing spinal damage. Medical care provided within the first eight hours following a spinal cord injury is crucial to a patient’s recovery.

Once a patient has been stabilised and is able to leave intensive care, rehabilitation will help optimise recovery and help them adjust to the more permanent and life-changing aspects of their injury.

Rehabilitation programmes will typically combine physical therapies designed to improve core strength, quality of movement, joint range and posture, and psychological counselling to help patients adjust to the limitations and emotional effects of their injury.

We wish Ms Laing all the very best in her recovery and sincerely hope that it won’t be long before she can be moved to a rehabilitation centre to enable her to continue to improve.

Tim Deeming is a senior medical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon in Cambridge.

He has more than a decade of experience working exclusively in this field and is an expert in catastrophic and spinal injuries.

Slater and Gordon are proud to be a Ruby Corporate Sponsor of the Spinal Injuries Association, the leading national charity for spinal cord injured people and their families.

For a free consultation about claiming compensation for a spinal cord injury, please call our spinal injury solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.

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