Judge tosses suit against NHL over enforcer’s death and on-ice violence
Dallas Stars’ Krystofer Barch, left, and Minnesota Wild’s Derek Boogaard, right, fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Nov. 26, 2008, in St. Paul, Minn. (Tom Olmscheid / Associated Press)
A federal judge in Chicago threw out a wrongful-death lawsuit Monday alleging the National Hockey League’s promotion of gratuitous on-ice violence led to the 2011 overdose death of a veteran "enforcer."
The lawsuit filed by the parents of Derek Boogaard alleged the former Minnesota Wild winger died at 28 of an accidental drug overdose after a battle with an addiction to painkillers prescribed by NHL doctors.
An autopsy determined he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive brain disease caused by head trauma, according to the suit.
In dismissing the allegations, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman wrote in a 20-page opinion that Boogaard’s parents failed to register themselves as trustees for his estate, even though they were aware that by law they had to do so in order to sue.
Feinerman said the plaintiffs also failed to provide proof that the NHL was negligent, either by promoting violence in the game or hiding a growing body of evidence on the long-term effects of concussions on its players.
The judge added, however, that the technical reasons for the dismissal should not be misunderstood as support for "how the NHL handled Boogaard’s particular circumstances — or the circumstances of other NHL players who over the years have suffered injuries from on-ice play."
Lawyers representing the NHL could not immediately be reached for comment, while William Gibbs, the lawyer for Boogaard’s family, declined comment.
Boogaard was drafted in 2001 by the Wild and played for the New York Rangers at the time of his death. At 6-foot-7 and about 270 pounds, he was an enforcer who took part in at least 66 on-ice fights while playing in about 275 regular-season games.
The lawsuit, first filed in Cook County Circuit Court, alleged that Boogaard was given more than 1,000 pills by NHL team doctors and dentists during the 2008-09 season.
At the end of that season, he was prescribed 150 pills of oxycodone over a two-week period and eventually was taking up to 10 oxycodone pills a day, the suit said.
The lawsuit alleged that the NHL knew or should have known that players with brain damage are more susceptible to drug addiction and that enforcers specifically "had an increased risk of developing addiction to prescription medications."
A similar lawsuit brought by the family of former Chicago Blackhawks player Steve Montador is pending in federal court in Minnesota, records show.
Montador, who died at 35 in February 2015, sustained thousands of hits to his head during a 13-year NHL career, including 15 documented concussions, according to that suit.
Meanwhile, more than 100 former players are involved in a class-action complaint filed in 2013 alleging the league did not do enough to warn them of the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head or protect them from the hits.
A native of Saskatchewan, Boogaard’s fighting prowess earned him the nicknames of "Boogeyman" and "The Mountie" and made him a fan favorite. His life and death were featuered in a New York Times series titled "Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer."
His death led to felony charges in federal court in New York against Jordan Hart, a former minor league hockey player who sold Boogaard thousands of dollars of illegally obtained prescription painkillers.
Prosecutors, however, were unable to link the pills Hart sold directly to Boogaard’s death. Last year, Hart pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count and was sentenced to a year of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Boogard’s father, Len, wrote in a letter to the judge that the reduced charges made "a mockery of the seriousness of the pain inflicted on our family," according to the Times report.