Wrongful death lawsuit by family of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard can move forward, judge rules

by Charles Miller

An Illinois federal judge says that a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of former NHL hockey player Derek Boogaard against the league will be allowed to move forward. Boogaard spent six years in the NHL as an “enforcer” for the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild before his death from a painkiller overdose in 2011.

According to a lawsuit originally filed by Boogaard’s parents in 2013, the NHL violated its own substance abuse policy by allowing their son to return to the league despite having failed to complete a league-mandated drug treatment regimen for opioid painkiller addiction. Boogaard underwent treatment for opioid addiction at a rehab facility in Southern California prior to the NHL’s 2009-2010 while he was a player with the Wild.

Boogaard’s family alleged that he became addicted to opioids as a result of injuries sustained during his many brawls as an enforcer for the Rangers and the Wild. The enforcer is an unofficial hockey position whose job is to deter violent play by the opposing team and respond forcefully to dirty play against his own players, often by engaging in fights with the opponent’s own enforcer.

As a result of these repeated fights, Boogaard sustained several concussions, his family’s lawsuit alleges. Boogaard became addicted to prescription painkillers after receiving prescriptions for several opioid medications, many of them written by team doctors. Boogaard was still under contract with the Rangers when he was found dead of an overdose of alcohol and painkillers in May 2011. An autopsy revealed that Boogaard suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head.

U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman, who is hearing the Boogaard family’s lawsuit in Chicago federal district court, granted summary judgement to the NHL in December 2015. The league had argued that the family’s allegations were preempted under federal labor law because they were covered under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. Attorneys for the Boogaard family filed an amended complaint focusing on issues that were not covered in the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement.

Families May Qualify to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit on Behalf of a Loved One

Even when they are prescribed by a doctor or medical staff, opioid painkillers can be deadly. The CDC estimates that 14,000 Americans lost their lives in 2014 as a result of an overdose caused by prescription painkillers. Thousands more have abused these drugs or become addicted, due in part to irresponsible prescribing practices by a physician or the aggressive marketing of these drugs by the painkiller industry.

Families who have lost a loved one due to negligence on the part of an employer or medical staff may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit against parties whose negligence contributed to the death. The first step in taking legal action is to speak with a law firm whose attorneys have the knowledge and experience to handle your case from start to finish and secure fair compensation for your losses in the form of a verdict or settlement.

For more information about filing a lawsuit on behalf of your loved one and to learn whether you may qualify to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free legal consultation from an attorney. To find out more, please call us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few brief questions to get started.


Case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case. Results of other cases do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case.

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by Charles Miller

Charles Miller is a licensed attorney and a partner at Heygood, Orr & Pearson. Charles focuses his practice on areas of complex commercial litigation and personal injury litigation.