The family of Neil Doef, a former promising young hockey player from Smiths Falls, Ont., has reached a settlement with Hockey Canada and its insurance company related to a career-ending injury in 2014.
Doef was a 17-year-old forward when he was checked into the boards during a World Junior A Challenge game in Saskatchewan, fracturing his seventh cervical vertebra and compressing his spinal cord.
At the time, he was one of the top junior A hockey players in Canada. He was on the NHL draft radar and had signed a scholarship to play at Princeton University, where he would graduate in 2021.
Doctors told him he might never walk again, but he surpassed the expectations of his team at The Ottawa Hospital and took his first steps within a year of the injury. Doef has been diagnosed with incomplete quadriplegia.
In December 2015, Doef sued Hockey Canada, The Hockey Canada Foundation and the AIG Insurance Company of Canada.
The website of Doef's Ottawa lawyer,Thomas Conway, said Hockey Canada was sued for alleged negligence and breach of fiduciary duty in the design and administration of its insurance program, and for allegedly not getting adequate insurance for its members. AIG Insurance, meanwhile, was sued for allegedly wrongly denying insurance benefits.
The civil case was scheduled to go to trial in Ottawa's Superior Court in May, more than seven years later, but a settlement was reached at a pre-trial.
The financial terms of the settlement are confidential.
'Hockey remains ... one of the most important aspects of my life'
Now 26, Doef released a statement announcing the settlement.
In it, Doef said he and his family are "relieved" the matter was "amicably resolved," and he still hopes to work in the game.
"Hockey remains, and will continue to be, one of the most important aspects of my life. I am eager to continue my journey in the hockey world and to make the contributions that I can to the game and hockey community," his statement reads.
In its statement, Hockey Canada praised Doef.
"Neil is a valued member of the hockey community, and we wish to recognize his courage. He played Canada's national sport with talent and passion and has demonstrated tremendous resilience and determination during his rehabilitation, in no small part because of his strength of character," the statement reads.
Doef and his family declined to comment Thursday through their lawyer, citing their desire for a break after the years-long legal battle.
Hockey Canada was represented by Toronto lawyer Margaret Waddell, and AIG Insurance was represented by Toronto lawyer Thomasina Dumonceau.