Saskatoon

'Derek's life meant something': Joanne Boogaard vows to keep fighting NHL after son's death

A U.S. District Court judge has granted an amendment that will allow Derek Boogaard's family to move forward with a lawsuit against the NHL.

U.S. court ruling allows Boogaard family to advance lawsuit against NHL

The Boogaard family is taking the NHL to court after the death of their son, professional hockey player Derek Boogaard. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Five years after Saskatchewan-raised NHL player Derek Boogaard died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and painkillers, his family's lawsuit against the hockey league will be heard in the U.S.  

Prior to his death, the 28-year-old NHL enforcer had been undergoing treatment for opioid addiction at the direction of the league. 

In 2013, the Boogaard family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NHL over its handling of his drug addiction.

They say the league contributed to brain injuries he suffered, as well as his addiction to prescription painkillers.

On Thursday, a U.S. District Court judge finally granted an amendment that will allow the family's complaint to move forward. 

A long five years

Speaking from her home in Regina, Joanne Boogaard said her reasons for pursuing the complaint related to accountability. 

"It's been a very long five years and fighting the NHL is not an easy thing," she said. "Derek's life meant something, he didn't die just for nothing ... we have to follow through with this."

Born in Saskatoon, Derek played for teams in Regina, Prince George and Medicine Hat while in the Western Hockey League.

He spent the first several seasons of his NHL career with the Minnesota Wild, who drafted him in 2001.

When Derek died, he had just completed his first season with the New York Rangers after signing as a free agent. 

He only played 22 times with New York, suffering a concussion after a fight in a game in early December of 2010.

The body of Derek Boogaard (94) was found on May 13, 2011, in his apartment in Minneapolis. He died from an accidental overdose of prescription pain killers and alcohol. (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Raising awareness

Joanne hopes her complaint against the NHL will help raise awareness about the dangers of concussions in hockey. 

Although she's not sure what she would have done differently, she wishes she was more aware of the risks when Derek was a young player. 

"There is more [awareness] out there now," she said. "I think coaches are being taught more to watch out for concussions ... I see more that they are looking out."

She said that after the death of her son, another child — one of Derek's brothers — quit playing hockey.

"My grandson plays hockey now, I'm just worried, I'm glad he's a goalie. Thank God."

Legal complaint

The Boogaard family's complaint will be heard in Chicago on Oct. 6. 

Joanne said Derek's father Len, a former Mountie, did a lot of legwork to get the paperwork prepared ahead of the hearing. 

Now she said it was up to her lawyers, from the firm of Corboy and Demetrio, to pursue the case. 

"You know it just keeps going on and on, but it, you know, it has to, it just has to," she said. 

"Until they really answer to what they've done and what they continue to do."

None of the Boogaard's claims have been proven in court. 

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the NHL. CBC News has also sought comment from the Corboy and Demetrio law firm, but they have not responded. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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