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Is the NHL responsible for Derek Boogaard’s death?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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For six seasons, Derek Boogaard fought and bled in the National Hockey League as one of hockey’s most storied enforcers. He also popped pills and was administered injections to deal with the pain from those altercations.

Boogaard was found dead at 28 of an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers, mixed with alcohol, in May 2011.

According to the New York Times, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NHL on Friday accusing the League of subjecting Boogaard to head trauma as an enforcer, irresponsibly medicating him and then failing to help Boogaard when his addictions to painkillers became apparent.

The law firm of Corboy & Demetrio filed the suit in Cook County, Ill.; the same firm that brought a case against the NFL on behalf of the family of Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in 2011 after battling C.T.E., "a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma." Boogaard was posthumously diagnosed with C.T.E.

According to the Times, the suit goes after the NHL for its concussion protocol:

“Due to his ingestion of an inordinate amount of pain medications prescribed by N.H.L. team physicians, Derek Boogaard became addicted to opioids,” the suit alleges.

It states that the N.H.L. “breached its duty” to Boogaard by, among other things, failing to monitor his prescriptions or establish proper procedures for administering and tracking them. It alleges that the substance-abuse program knew that Boogaard violated its rules many times — including a series of failed drug tests in his final months and his admission that he sometimes bought painkillers illegally — yet never disciplined or suspended him, as program rules dictate.

The lawsuit also says that the N.H.L. should have known that “enforcers/fighters” had increased risk for injuries, concussions and addiction. “On numerous occasions, the N.H.L. allowed and encouraged Derek Boogaard, after suffering concussions, to return to play and fight in the same game and/or practice,” the suit alleges.

In other words: This case could have repercussions that go far beyond how Derek Boogaard was treated by his doctors.

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