The National Hockey League was sued for wrongful death by the estate of the late New York Rangers player Derek Boogaard.
The league, through its team doctors, trainers and staff, is accused of plying Boogaard with prescription painkillers so that he could fight opposing players, leading to an addiction and an ultimately fatal overdose. He died on May 13, 2011.
“The NHL drafted Derek Boogaard because it wanted his massive body to fight in order to enhance ratings, earnings and exposure,” estate lawyer William T. Gibbs said today in a statement announcing the May 10 filing at an Illinois state court in Chicago.
“Fighting night after night took its expected toll on Derek’s body and mind,” the attorney said. “To deal with the pain, he turned to the team doctors, who dispensed pain pills like candy.”
Boogaard played 277 NHL games between 2005 and 2011, spending five seasons with the Minnesota Wild and one with the New York Rangers, according to his NHL player biography page. During that time, the 6-foot-7-inch, 265-pound player scored three goals, was credited with assists on 13 more and accrued 589 penalty minutes.
His death at age 28 two years ago today was followed by the suicide of Rick Rypien, 27, of the Winnipeg Jets in August 2011 and the death of retired Nashville Predators player Wade Belak, 35, two weeks later.
In a 549-game NHL career spanning 1996 to 2011, Belak was assessed 1,263 penalty minutes while scoring eight goals and adding 25 assists, according to his league biography. Rypien, who played parts of six seasons, served 226 penalty minutes while scoring nine times and assisting seven.
“We don’t have any comment,” NHL spokesman Gary Meagher said about the lawsuit filed by Boogaard’s estate. Neither of the NHL teams for whom Boogaard played are named as defendants in the case.
After his death, Boogaard was found to have been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of brain damage caused by repeated blows to his head during his hockey career, according to the complaint.
That trauma allegedly damaged areas of his brain controlling judgment, inhibition, mood, behavior and impulse control, the estate lawyers alleged.
The 30-team league is accused of breaching its duty to Boogaard by failing to keep him “reasonably safe” during his NHL career, permitting him to be repeatedly injected with the intramuscular analgesic Toradol and giving him “copious amounts” of prescription pain medications and sleeping pills.
During the 2008-2009 season, NHL medical personnel allegedly prescribed 1,021 pills for him. At the end of that season, he underwent two operations in 16 days, after which he was prescribed 150 pills of oxycodone by league doctors.
Boogaard ultimately became addicted to the opioids and sleeping pills, was twice admitted to substance-abuse treatment facilities, after which he died from an accidental prescription drug overdose, according to the complaint.
He is survived by his father, Len, mother Joanne, three brothers and a sister, who seek unspecified money damages under Illinois’s wrongful-death statute.
“He was there protecting his teammates at all costs, but who was there to protect him?” Joanne Boogaard said in a joint statement with the estate’s lawyer, Gibbs, an attorney in the Chicago law firm Corboy & Demetrio PC.
The case is Nelson, as personal representative of the Estate of Boogaard v. National Hockey League, 13-L-3945, Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court, Law Division (Chicago).
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