Family of pro hockey player files lawsuit against NHL over son’s painkiller overdose death

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by Heygood Orr and Pearson

The family of former professional hockey player Derek Boogaard has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the National Hockey League aimed at changing the way opioid painkillers are prescribed to players. Boogaard played six seasons in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers before his death in May 2011 from an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers and alcohol.

During his time in the league, Boogaard was an enforcer—a player whose job is to deter violent play from the opposing side by fighting or checking aggressive players on the other team—a job which can put the enforcers themselves at risk of injury. Boogaard suffered a concussion that ended his career in December 2010. An autopsy performed after his death revealed that Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy—damage to the brain caused by multiple concussions or repeated head trauma.

Boogaard’s family alleges that because of the injuries he sustained as an enforcer, he was placed on painkillers by team physicians that caused him to become addicted to the drugs. According to the family’s lawsuit, many NHL teams have multiple doctors, meaning that players could be receiving painkillers or other drugs from multiple team physicians. The family alleges that this lack of controls on how painkillers are prescribed to hockey players increases the chance that players like their son could become addicted to these drugs.

The Boogaard family filed a lawsuit against the NHL in order to force the league to track how painkillers are prescribed to hockey players in order to limit the risk of addiction. The family filed a similar lawsuit against the National Hockey League Players’ Association last fall. However, the case was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the family had waited too long after their son’s death to file that case.