NHL Hit With Lawsuit Over Death of Derek Boogaard

By Corey Licht, Esq. on May 14, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Former hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard participated in 174 career fights during his time in professional hockey, according to Boston University researchers. That's more than many professional boxers.

The fights apparently took a toll on the former New York Ranger, NPR reports. In May of 2011, Boogaard died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone allegedly prescribed by team doctors. Now, Boogaard's family has filed a wrongful death suit against the National Hockey League, claiming that the league was negligent in exposing Boogaard to frequent head trauma and failing to offer him adequate care.

According to the suit, the NHL drafted Boogaard because of his massive size and penchant for fighting. Since the brawls helped boost ratings, the league did little to prevent them, Boogaard's family alleges. The frequent fighting left Boogaard with a host of physical ailments, the suit claims.

"To deal with the pain, he turned to the team doctors, who dispensed pain pills like candy," the Boogaards' attorney, William Gibbs, said in a statement. "Then, once he became addicted to these narcotics, the NHL promised his family that it would take care of him. It failed. He died."

According to the suit, Minnesota Wild team doctors prescribed Boogaard a staggering 1,201 painkillers during the 2008-09 season, the Associated Press reports. Team doctors for the New York Rangers reportedly provided Boogaard with prescriptions for an additional 366 pills during the 2010-11 season. At the age of 28, Boogaard was found dead of an accidental overdose.

The lawsuit not only blames the NHL for getting Boogaard hooked on prescription drugs but for causing the former brawler serious brain damage as well. Following their son's death, Boogard's parents donated Derek's brain to researchers at Boston University, a program known for its work in the area of sports-related head trauma. Researchers found that Boogaard's brain showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease linked to brain trauma.

The Boogaards' suit bears a resemblance to the string of CTE lawsuits the NFL has faced in recent years. A class action suit brought by former NFL players blames the league for failing to put adequate safety policies in place and concealing evidence that concussions could lead to the disease.

While CTE has mainly been associated with boxing and football, hockey's full-contact nature seems to make brain trauma inevitable. While only a handful of NHL players to-date have been diagnosed with CTE, the Boogaards' suit could spark a flood of claims against the NHL. For now, however, Gibbs has declined to speculate about the future possibility of a class action suit against the league.

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