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A federal appellate court has affirmed the dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the National Hockey League for the death of player Derek Boogaard.
Len and Joanne Boogaard appealed the dismissal of the lawsuit they brought as the personal representatives of the estate of their son Derek, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that by failing to respond to the league’s argument that their complaint fails to state a claim, the Boogaards forfeited any argument that it does, according to the decision filed Friday.
Derek Boogaard was a professional hockey player in the NHL, joining in 2005 as a member of the Minnesota Wild, where he remained until summer 2010 before signing a contract with the New York Rangers, according to court documents. During his time with the Wild, team doctors repeatedly prescribed him pain pills relating to various injuries and procedures and he became addicted to those pills by 2009, according to allegations in the lawsuit. He was placed into the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program and checked into a California rehabilitation facility for in-patient treatment of his opioid and sleeping-pill addictions.
He relapsed after signing with the Rangers – a situation made worse by league doctors who allegedly prescribed him Ambien and pain medication and the league, which failed to impose penalties when he reported he had purchased pain medications off the street and when he failed urine tests, according to the lawsuit. In May 2011, he accidentally overdosed and died at age 28, according to court documents.
Mr. Boogaard’s estate sued the NHL and other defendants in Illinois state court and later filed an amended complaint including Minnesota state law claims, but the league removed the case to federal court, arguing that federal jurisdiction exists under the doctrine of complete preemption, which applies when the scope of a federal law is so broad it essentially replaces state-law claims. The district court agreed and denied the estate’s motion to remand and the 7th circuit ruled that the district court got the jurisdictional issue “right.”
The estate’s appeal presented “a curious situation” in that much of its brief attacked one element of the district court’s dismissal – that Minnesota law only allows wrongful death and survival actions to be brought by a court-appointed trustee, which the Boogaards were not – rather than responding to the league’s argument that the Boogaards failed to state a claim under either Minnesota or Illinois law, according to the 7th circuit.
“It is hard to fault the Boogaards for lodging a weak challenge to the district court’s forfeiture holding because there are no strong arguments available against it,” the appellate court said in affirming the dismissal.
Attorneys for the estate and the league could not be immediately reached for comment.
Concussion-related lawsuits by professional football players are likely to guide the National Hockey League's legal strategy in similar cases filed by retired hockey players, including the possibility they will be settled out of court.