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Hockey Player Liable | Lerners LLP

Hockey Player Liable for Blindsided Hit of Opponent

Hockey is our national sport and we cannot seem to get enough of it. Hockey is played every day across this country by Canadians of various ages and skill level. Given the nature of the sport, it is not surprising that injuries will occur and many consider injuries to be just part of the sport.

A body of “hockey law” has developed across Canada, much of it is solidly grounded in basic negligence law. Courts have held that hockey players are deemed to implicitly consent to the risk of injury “inherent to a fast-paced and sometimes physically violent sport”. A hockey player is presumed to consent to the risk that they may suffer an injury, even a serious injury, from a bodily contact with another player.

Our Courts have also held that “a player does not accept the risk of injury from conduct that is malicious, out of the ordinary or beyond the bounds of fair play.”

In a recent decision, Casterton vs. MacIsaac, 2019 ONSC 190, Justice Sally Gomery of the Superior Court of Justice found liability in favour of a 29 year old man who sustained serious head, facial and dental injuries while playing hockey in a recreational, non-contact league. Damages in excess of $700,000 were assessed for his injuries, which the trial judge described as causing the plaintiff functional and cognitive limitations, limiting his ability to work and having a profound impact on his life.

There was conflicting evidence as to how the body contact occurred. Players from both teams and the referee testified, as well as the parties. The trial judge found that the defendant intentionally skated at a high speed at the plaintiff from an angle where his approach could not be seen by the plaintiff. He positioned his arms and drew in his body in a way to maximize bodily contact, causing a collision with the plaintiff’s face.

The trial judge found that this was a blindsided hit and the defendant either deliberately attempted to injure the plaintiff or was reckless about the possibility he would do so. The trial judge went on to find that even if the hit was neither intentional nor reckless, that the defendant would be liable because he failed to meet the standard of care applicable to a hockey player in the circumstances. Everyone agreed that a blindsided hit to the face is and was outside the bounds of fair play.

Justice Gomery undertook a helpful review of the Canadian case law in respect of hockey injuries. Based on the trial judge’s findings as to how the injury occurred, liability followed.

Recreational hockey is intended to be a fun activity that many Canadians love to participate in. The trial judge’s decision reaffirms that playing hockey comes with a recognized risk of injury, but injuries caused by the intentional or reckless breach of the rules of the sport will result in findings of civil liability.

Hockey remains the greatest game in the world. Let’s play fair, be safe, abide by the rules and have fun!

Peter Kryworuk

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