MINNEAPOLIS — Joanne Boogaard watched her son Derek duke it out on the ice with other NHL tough guys for six seasons as one of the most feared enforcers in the game, a 6-foot-7 brawler who was not there to score.
“He was there protecting his teammates at all costs,” she said in a statement released by her lawyers Monday, “but who was there to protect him?”
She and other relatives have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the NHL, blaming the league for brain damage her son suffered playing the game and for his addiction to prescription painkillers. Boogaard died of an accidental overdose of pain medication and alcohol two years ago.
The 28-year-old was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain ailment that can be caused by repeated blows to the head, according to the 55-page
lawsuit filed in Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court late Friday.
One of the attorneys who filed the suit, William Gibbs, said the NHL profited from Boogaard’s physical abilities as team doctors dispensed “pain pills like candy” after repeated injuries.
The NHL declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The allegations mirror those by thousands of former football players against the NFL. Both contend the leagues knowingly withheld information on the connection between the violent clashes in their sport and traumatic brain injury, and pushed players to play through pain, an approach that brought about long-term health issues. Gibbs’ law firm also represents the family of Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who committed suicide, and other former football players.
“The Boogaard family desperately wants meaningful change to happen so that this never happens to another kid,” Gibbs said.
Boogaard took part in at least 66 on-ice fights; in the 2008-09 season with the Minnesota Wild, he received 1,021 prescriptions from NHL team physicians, dentists, trainers and staff, the lawsuit says.
In April 2011, the NHL “knew, or should have known, that Derek Boogaard, a known drug addict, with probable brain damage due to concussive brain traumas sustained in NHL fights, was not complying with treatment (at a treatment center),” the suit alleges.
Boogaard was under contract with the New York Rangers at the time of his death. He played his first five NHL seasons with the Minnesota Wild and one season with the Rangers after signing a four-year, $6.5 million contract with New York in July 2010.
Boogaard’s family filed a lawsuit against the NHL Players Association last September, seeking $9.8 million. The family said the union, after expressing interest in helping pursue a case against the league, missed a deadline for filing a grievance. A judge ruled the family waited too long to act and dismissed the case this spring.