Playing sports at any age or skill level can pose a risk to one’s health. Even those playing non-contact sports are exposing themselves to the risk of injury. However, does accepting the possibility of injury mean someone has no legal recourse if another player’s actions lead to injury? This was a question recently addressed in a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that could have a far-reaching impact on those playing beer league hockey all over the country.
A nasty hit
The incident leading to the trial arose during a senior men’s hockey league game in 2012. Many of the players were former university athletes, but the league was recreational, the sort traditionally referred to as “beer league.” The plaintiff was a forward for the Pirates, while the defendant was playing defence for the Tiger Cats. The two players did not know each other prior to the game.
It was the second-last game of the season, and with just a few minutes left to play, the Pirates were ahead 5-3.
The defendant was coming around the back of the plaintiff’s team’s net and the two collided. The plaintiff was knocked off his feet by the impact and lost consciousness when he hit the ice. His face was covered in blood from cuts to his cheek, lip, chin, and mouth. In addition, two of his teeth were broken off. The referee instructed the uninjured defendant to leave the ice.
A player from the plaintiff’s team thought the hit was deliberate and called the police, who charged the defendant with assault. He was originally convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal and the charged were ultimately stayed. The civil lawsuit, however, went ahead.
Was it a fair play?
Ultimately, the question before the court was whether the hit should be considered fair play. The defendant’s argument was that people accept the risk of injury from playing even non-contact hockey due to its fast pace and the game’s underlying violent nature.
The court described how body checks have major penalties associated with them so that even while body contact can be expected, it is not sanctioned.
After analyzing how the play occurred, the judge found that it could have been avoided, writing
“I find that (the defendant) anticipated the collision and could have avoided it. (The defendant) was a skillful and experienced skater and hockey player. He could see (the plaintiff) skating behind the net. His belief that (the plaintiff) still had the puck is irrelevant. He had to have realized that, if he continued skating at high speed towards him, they would collide violently.
“I conclude that (the defendant) intentionally skated at high speed towards (the plaintiff) from an angle where his approach could not be seen. He positioned his arms and drew up his body in such a way as to maximize bodily contact, causing a collision between (the defendant’s) shoulder and forearms and the lower half of (the plaintiff’s) face. (The plaintiff) did not anticipate the check and, as such, made no moves to protect himself or attempt to avoid the collision. Each player admitted that, if (the plaintiff’s) theory of how the collision occurred were accepted, this was a blindside hit.”
The judge found the plaintiff was entitled to $63,000 in general damages, $199,512 in past lost income, and $440,039 in future income loss as of June 20, 2019.
The exceptional insurance lawyers at HMC Lawyers in Calgary have successfully argued personal injury cases in front of Alberta’s courts and defended against claims for serious bodily injury at all levels of courts throughout Western Canada. To speak with a member of our Insurance team about a bodily injury defence claim, contact us online or call 1-800-480-3534 today.