Legal Brief

Gag Order Thrown Out in Former NHL Player Michael Peluso’s Workers’ Comp Case

A workers’ comp insurer lost its bid to keep the details of a high profile case out of the media.
By: | August 23, 2017 • 3 min read

Pro-athletes across the sports spectrum are suffering from brain injuries — concussions, memory loss, confusion and more have been reported by current and former players.

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Michael Peluso, a National Hockey League alum, filed for workers’ comp in 2012 in the state of California for injuries sustained during his professional hockey career.

Peluso began his NHL career in 1990 with the Chicago Blackhawks. He spent three seasons as a forward before joining the Ottawa Senators in 1992. By 1993, Peluso was traded to the New Jersey Devils, helping lead the team to its first of three Stanley Cup victories.

Peluso finished out his career playing for the St. Louis Blues and then the Calgary Flames, retiring in 1998 after a spinal cord injury. During the course of his career, Peluso logged 240 in-game fights in the 458 games he played.

Then he saw the repercussions.

He began suffering from a seizure disorder, dementia, memory loss, severe anxiety and depression. His lawyer claimed that Peluso also incurred permanent damage on the right side of his brain.

According to his legal counsel, Peluso spent $75,000 in neurology treatments and anti-seizure medication. He also went under the knife for nine surgeries due to injuries sustained as a hockey player.

Peluso alleged that in 1994, the New Jersey Devils knew that if he went back on the ice, he would face a high risk of permanent brain damage. He said team officials never told him.

In 2012, the former NHL player filed for workers’ comp, naming the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames as defendants.

Additionally, Peluso alleged that in 1994, the New Jersey Devils knew that if he went back on the ice, he would face a high risk of permanent brain damage. He said team officials never told him.

Closing the Door on the Media

During an April 12 hearing this year, California Workers’ Compensation Judge Alicia Hawthorne ordered Peluso be examined by Minneapolis neurologist Steven Stein. Stein was asked to determine Peluso’s mental competency and decide if the NHL player could travel to California to testify for his trial. Currently, Peluso resides in Minnesota.

In the interim, Hawthorne asked that Peluso remain silent when it came to the media. She did not want Stein’s assessment to be swayed by what he might see on TV.

The Canadian sports channel, The Sports Network, reported that Hawthorne’s exact words were, “The court is not going to order anything. However, it has been understood, and it will be appreciated by [Peluso’s] counsel, that the media shall not be involved any longer in this matter.”

On May 3, a Minnesota TV station interviewed Peluso about the legal battle brewing between him and his former NHL teams.

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A week later, Chubb, the New Jersey Devils’ insurer, moved for sanctions against Peluso. Hawthorne complied and issued a notice of intent to impose a $1,500 fine against one of Peluso’s lawyers for allowing his client to speak to the media about his case.

Peluso’s lawyers fought the gag order, saying they had never agreed to Hawthorne’s request. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California reviewed the case and overruled Hawthorne’s decision, stating that she erred in placing the order in the first place.

“We are not convinced that [Hawthorne] had the authority to impose a gag order to preclude [Peluso] from conducting media interviews,” read the board’s decision. “Rather than focus attention on this issue, the parties and [Hawthorne] should complete discovery expeditiously and proceed to trial.”

Additionally, the appeals board rejected a request by Peluso’s lawyers to have Hawthorne replaced on the case.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.

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But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.

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Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]