Babych sues Flyers
Former defenseman seeks $2 million in damagesPosted: Tuesday April 09, 2002 5:53 PM
But the pain was too much, and he went to the locker room and started undressing. That's when he says a team doctor told him he could play and his coach told him he had to.
The decision for the veteran to return to the ice that night is now at the center of a $2 million lawsuit scheduled to go to court this summer.
Babych, who played with five NHL teams between 1980 and 1999, is suing Comcast-Spectacor, owner of the Flyers, and the team's doctor, saying he was pressured to play in the playoffs despite a serious foot injury. The decision, he says, led to the end of his career.
"If he wins, there could be some effect of this on the role of team doctors," said Mark Conrad, who teaches sports law at Fordham University. "But of course, that's a big `if.'"
Babych's case stems from a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 8, 1998, when an opposing player's slapshot broke Babych's left foot.
Two weeks later, the Flyers opened the playoffs against the Sabres. After a shot of a painkiller, Babych took the ice.
In a deposition last June, Babych said coach Roger Neilson told him he had to play, and that Dr. Arthur Bartolozzi said he could -- and agreed to freeze the player's foot so he wouldn't feel the pain.
Babych went on to play all five games against Buffalo, scoring a goal in the finale as the Flyers were eliminated. Babych played for the Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings the following season and briefly in Europe in the 1999-2000.
The 40-year-old Babych claims he was never the same player after the injury. He and his wife are seeking $2 million in lost income plus unspecified damages in the suit they filed in 2000.
Over the years, several athletes have filed similar suits, but Conrad said most have been settled out of court.
There have been exceptions:
The lawsuits themselves are the exception in a world where athletes pride themselves on playing hurt, said Jennifer L. Crispen, an associate professor of physical education at Sweet Briar College in Virginia who has studied sports culture.
"I don't really know how clear it is the contracting organization forces the playing," Crispen said. "We have an expectation of playing through pain."
The Babych trial is scheduled to open in July. The case is being tried in Atlantic City because the Flyers operate a skating facility there. The potential witness list includes some big names, including Eric Lindros, the New York Rangers center who feuded with the Flyers over his medical treatment when he played in Philadelphia.
Neilson, now an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators, denied Babych's version of his role last month and called the suit "absolutely crazy."
A lawyer for the Flyers' owner said the suit is groundless.
"We're confident that Mr. Babych received the very best medical care," said William Riina, a lawyer for Comcast-Spectacor.
Neither Bartolozzi nor his lawyer, John A. Talvacchia, returned telephone calls seeking comment Tuesday. But in a deposition last year, Bartolozzi said he was serving his patient and not the Flyers with his decision to clear Babych.
"The players are my patients, so I take care of the players as my patient," Bartolozzi said.