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Derek Boogaard Wrongful Death Case Dismissed

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Edmonton Oilers v New York Rangers Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Derek Boogaard died of an accidental overdose of oxycodone and alcohol on May 13, 2011. Boogaard was only 28-years-old. After a hockey career that extended between the Western Hockey League and National Hockey League, Boogaard’s head injuries mounted and ultimately caused him to develop the neuro-degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), that was diagnosed posthumously.

Boogaard played in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. In his 277 career games, he earned 16 points (three goals, 13 assists), fought more than 60 times, and accumulated 589 penalty minutes.

A combination of subconcussive and concussive hits to Boogaard’s head throughout his career caused him to suffer from traumatic brain injuries that led to CTE developing. The NHL has yet to acknowledge that there is a link between hockey and the subsequent head injuries caused from playing and CTE, nor have they assumed responsibility for inadequately preparing their players and taking precautions against concussions – and Boogaard was yet another example of collateral damage.

While playing in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers, Boogaard sustained concussions and was prescribed painkillers accordingly. After he left Minnesota though, those prescriptions overlapped with ones issued by the Rangers’ doctors. In fact, Boogaard received some prescriptions by texting team doctors without any notation on his medical files.

Minnesota Wild v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Len Boogaard, Derek’s father, requested his medical records from the Wild and Rangers – however, many records were incomplete and missing information. He also collected information from Derek’s time in the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Len also organized his cellphone and bank records to find how he obtained painkillers illicitly as well.

John Branch closely followed Derek Boogaard and his untimely death in a series with the New York Times and a corresponding book, Boy on Ice. Branch reported Len’s findings after Derek’s death.

These findings included that Derek had received over 25 prescriptions for painkillers between October 2008 and 2009 from 10 doctors. Eight of those doctors were from the Wild’s medical staff, plus one other prescription was from another NHL team’s doctor.

When Boogaard joined the Rangers, their medical staff was informed of his noted pain pill abuse – yet he was still prescribed hydrocodone by a team dentist after suffering an injury in New York. Another doctor of the Rangers’ medical staff prescribed him Ambien, when it was already documented that he abused sleeping pills. Even more troublesome was that Boogaard was still prescribed some of these medications by team doctors after going through the NHL’s substance abuse program. Branch noted though, that Boogaard may have misled some of these team doctors, so they may not have knowingly been aware of the extent of his drug intake.

Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images

After initial hesitation, Derek’s parents, Len and Joanne Boogaard filed a wrongful death suit against the NHL in 2013 in a Cook County Circuit Court – alleging the league “knew, or should have known, that Derek Boogaard, a known drug addict, with probably brain damage due to concussive brain traumas sustained in NHL fights, was not complying with treatment.”

On Monday, the wrongful death lawsuit was dismissed. In the court’s opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feinerman wrote that Derek’s parents did not successfully prove that the NHL was negligent in their handling of their son.

Also noted, was that a wrongful death lawsuit has to be filed by a court-appointed trustee and Derek’s parents did not meet this requirement since they were only his personal representatives, even though they were aware of this technicality – “Len and Joanne’s inexcusable and inexplicable delay in seeking appointment as trustees has forfeited their ability to do so for purposes of saving Boogaard’s survival claims in this suit.”

However, Feinerman did write that “Although judgement is entered in the NHL’s favor, this opinion should not be read to commend how the NHL handled Boogaard’s particular circumstances – or the circumstance of other NHL players who over the years have suffered injuries from on-ice play.” Feinerman stressed how he did not endorse a league, as alleged by the Boogaard’s, that “cultivated a culture of gratuitous violence” and glorifies “the vicious bare-knuckle fist-fights that occur on the ice.”

Although the Boogaards case was dismissed, that aspect of the opinion is critical because the NHL is defending a class-action lawsuit brought about by former players that alleged the league did not sufficiently prepare or protect them from head injuries.

While this case may not have brought justice to the Boogaards, hopefully Derek’s circumstances can in some way facilitate an end to perpetuating a culture that has cost players their lives.