The family of a National Hockey League (NHL) player who died of an accidental overdose from pain medications and alcohol has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the league in Cook County, Illinois. The family of Derek Boogaard alleges that the NHL is responsible for the brain damage he suffered during his years in the league and for his eventual addiction to prescription pain killers. Boogaard was found dead of an accidental overdose of pain medication and alcohol on May 13, 2011 at the age of 28. He was posthumously diagnosed with “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE) a degenerative brain condition often caused and exacerbated by blows to the head.
To distill this to one sentence, you take a young man, you subject him to trauma, you give him pills for that trauma, he becomes addicted to those pills, you promise to treat him for that addiction, and you fail,” said William Gibbs, the lawyer for the Boogaards.
The complaint states, in part, that the so-called enforcers/fighters in the NHL had an increased risk of brain damage due to concussive brain trauma and were particularly susceptible to drug addition. It has been alleged that Boogaard, who played in 277 games for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers, received over one thousand pills from NHL team physicians, dentists, trainers, and staff during his career. This came in conjunction with Boogaard being involved in at least 66 on-ice fights where he presumably received numerous blows to the head. The lawsuit alleges that the NHL knew or should have known that Boogaard was a “known drug addict, with probable brain damage due to concussive brain traumas” which were sustained in fights and that he was not complying with treatment to improve his condition. The family also alleges that Boogaard was encouraged to prematurely return to practice and/or games after suffering numerous concussions. The lawsuit details the improper treatment Boogaard received from team doctors of the Wild and Rangers and the officials from the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program which oversaw Boogaard’s care after he entered rehabilitation while playing for the Wild in 2009. The complaint alleges that the NHL breached its duty to “curb, cure and monitor Derrick Boogaard’s drug addiction.”
Concussion related issues have been an increasingly common topic in sports in recent years and are part of the nomenclature now for contact sports. If a court were to find the NHL and its physicians to be responsible for Boogaard’s death, it could expose the NHL in much the same way as the NFL which is now dealing with numerous lawsuits from its former players for post-concussion related symptoms. It is notable that the Boogaard suit was filed by the same law firm that filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of the estate of former football player Dave Duerson who committed suicide in 2011 allegedly due to trauma induced brain disease.