TORONTO - The unfortunate anniversary of Steve Moore’s last night of professional hockey comes Tuesday, seven years after his head was pile-driven to the ice by Todd Bertuzzi — and still there is nothing resembling justice.
There is no official trial date set for the civil suit launched by Moore. There is no judge yet assigned to the case. But there is, finally, after so much paper work filed, after so many depositions and counter-claims, some hope that justice is on its way.
To be accurate, the matter has been officially set for trial. Maybe it will begin late this year. More likely, the expected two-month trial that is certain to rock the hockey world, will find its way to court in early 2012. Already, some national networks have talked about applying to have the case televised live, which is highly unusual by Canadian judicial standards.
But this is not just a hockey story anymore. It’s about a career ruined and a life seemingly placed on hold. It’s about a Harvard graduate still having headache issues almost every time he thinks. It’s about the premeditation of an on-ice stalker. And now, with brain injuries and concussions and head shots being so much the focus of the problems of pro hockey, the trial arrives with new information about the largest single issue facing the sport.
Moore’s case is considered by many to be the single largest civil suit involving professional athletes in Canadian legal history. And with each passing year, the price has gone up.
“It has been very difficult for the process to take this long,” said Tim Danson, the lawyer representing Moore in his action against the Detroit Red Wings’ winger. “But actually, we needed the passing of time to fully understand the magnitude of the brain injury. This (incident) just didn’t terminate his NHL career. It impacted everything in his life. It impacted his future and his future employment.
“We’ve had years to look at this now and because Steve Moore has exceptionally high intelligence and is a Harvard graduate, we needed to evaluate all the factors involved. If we went to a jury too early, you wouldn’t have had the answers. It has been a lot of years and a lot of tests and we’ve learned a lot about the brain. I can’t really go into details right now because that will be a live issue at the trial.”
This will be a civil trial of suits and counter-suits, with a litany of lawyers everywhere and fingers pointed in all directions. Moore is suing Bertuzzi and Orca Bay Ltd., the former owner of the Vancouver Canucks, and the figure he is asking for is certain to be enormous. Danson will represent Moore. Geoffrey Adair will represent Bertuzzi, who has blamed then coach Marc Crawford, now head coach in Dallas, for his part in the incident. Crawford is represented by the impressive Jessica Kimmel. Orca Bay is represented by Alan D’Silva.
Understand this: This is an all-star team of litigators, playing for keeps here, with third-party actions involved. Bertuzzi has counter-sued Crawford and Orca Bay has legally pushed to separate itself from Bertuzzi, whose career earnings since the injury to Moore have been just below $20 million US and that includes a season locked out. And dealing with Bertuzzi won’t necessarily be easy.
In one of his depositions, Bertuzzi refused to answer 63 different questions. He won’t be given similar latitude in court.
Right now, Moore, the former Colorado Avalanche player, is going through another round of comprehensive medical tests. He must wonder how many times he must be poked and prodded before he sees anything resembling a settlement. It has been far too long already for a player whose life has been so severely altered by Bertuzzi’s assault.
“This is a unique trial,” Danson said. “The actual event was captured by multiple television cameras. We have video of the game and the assault from seven or eight different angles. There’s not really dispute over what happened.”
Just over how it happened. Why it happened. And who ultimately is responsible?
No doubt the names called to the witness stand in the case will include Bertuzzi, Crawford, Moore, then Canucks’ general manager, Brian Burke, his successor, Dave Nonis, NHL vice-president Colin Campbell. They will be among the headliners.
But this will be a case for the headlines if not the ages, right from beginning to end.