Two years ago, the NHL paid $18.49 million to settle a concussion lawsuit brought by more than 100 former players. Compared to a previous NFL concussion settlement of more than $1 billion, the consensus was the NHL won.
The NHL paid handsomely, however, for the legal counsel that led to the outcome. The league paid legal bills of $70.6 million between the time of the first case in 2013 through shortly before the settlement in November 2018, according to a series of letters from 2017 and 2018 presented in new court documents. That means for every dollar the league agreed to pay the injured players, it spent nearly $4 in legal fees (and possibly more), covering hundreds of individual lawyers who worked on the case.
The disclosures came in court filings from the insurance companies that allege the NHL’s law firms significantly overcharged and thus the insurers should not have to pay the full amount (they have paid about a quarter of the sum). The league and insurers are counter suing each other. In fact, the insurers are asking the New York State court to remove the law firms — Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — from the case altogether because they are arguably witnesses in the lawsuit.
“The Insurers allege that Skadden and Proskauer billed the NHL unreasonably and for unnecessary work,” a court filing this week notes. “If the Insurers are successful, the NHL will have a claim against Skadden and Proskauer for overbilling.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman got his start at Proskauer, which is arguably the top sports law firm in the country. The ties between the league and law firm run deep, the insurers write.