While the lawsuit brought by Derek Boogaard's family against the NHL is still in the early stages, it has the potential to open up a Pandora's box of lawsuits that may arise in the future.
The lawsuit itself focuses on one issue. The family contends the union did not take an opportunity to file a financial claim for the Boogaard family after Derek Boogaard died from drugs and alcohol in May 2011.
Boogaard had three years remaining on his contract, which was worth millions of dollars when he died. At the time of his death, he was in a substance abuse program sponsored by the NHL. The lawsuit alleges that the union knew it had a potential claim over Boogaard's death, but did not meet a deadline, spoiling the family's opportunity to receive $5 million.
The possibilities for future lawsuits lie in the allegations that are made in the Boogaard case: claims are being made that the two teams for which Boogaard served as a designated fighter contributed to his death. The lawsuit makes the claim that doctors for both teams, the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild, prescribed painkillers and drugs to Boogaard, even though it was known that he was addicted to the medications.
Boogaard's addiction to painkillers came about as a direct result from his head injuries. The lawsuit contends Boogaard sustained brain damage from being a fighter and that the NHL knew its fighters were at risk of sustaining this type of head trauma. Researchers had the opportunity to examine Boogaard's brain after he died, and concluded that he had a condition known as degenerative brain disease, which is directly linked to repeated head trauma.
Boogaard's case is unique to the NHL, but opens up the possibility of more lawsuits focusing on degenerative brain disease. The NFL is currently facing multiple lawsuits from players who have received head injuries from playing football, and it is likely the same could now happen in the NHL.
Source: The New York Times, "Boogaard Lawsuit May Shake Up Hockey," Jeff Z. Klein, September 26, 2012.
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