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 skate or score, but to defend his teammates when it was called for.
“He was there protecting his teammates at all costs,” she said in a statement released by her lawyers on Monday, “but who was there to protect him?”
Joanne Boogaard and other family members 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; his body was found on May 13, 2011.
The 28-year-old Boogaard 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 lawsuit, William Gibbs, said Monday the NHL profited from Boogaard’s physical abilities as team doctors dispensed “pain pills like candy” after he suffered repeated injuries.
“The NHL drafted Derek Boogaard because it wanted his massive body to fight in order to enhance ratings, earnings and exposure,” Gibbs said. “Then, once he became addicted to these narcotics, the NHL promised his family that it would take care of him. It failed.”
The NHL declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The allegations of the suit mirror those by thousands of former football players against the NFL. Both contend the leagues knowingly withheld information on the connection between the violent collisions in their sport and traumatic brain injury, and pushed players to play through pain, which 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 against the NFL.
Gibbs declined to draw a connection between the two cases or speculate on the prospects of a class-action lawsuit against the NHL. He said the NHL couldn’t claim ignorance about the consequences to Boogaard, who played for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers.
“The Boogaard family desperately wants meaningful change to happen so that this never happens to another kid,” Gibbs said.”