Participating in sports, for children and adults, is a generally a good thing. Sports activities help us stay in shape, make friends, and develop new skills. Of course, along with the many benefits comes the risk of injury. This is especially so for sports in which aggressive play and physical contact is normal and expected, such as hockey, football, and rugby.
Sports-related injuries occur regularly. In most cases, recovery time is short and, after treatment and healing, players are ready to play again. Sometimes, however, sports injuries can be devastating and life changing.
When a player suffers a severe or catastrophic injury under circumstances that surpass the normal risks of a particular sport, questions of liability can arise. It is not uncommon for personal injury claims and lawsuits to arise out of sports-related incidents. Courts in such cases must weigh the inherent risks of participating in sports against the circumstances that caused an injury, to determine on whose shoulders the loss should lie. When a sports injury is deemed to have resulted from negligent or intentionally harmful conduct, compensatory damages may be awarded to the injured party.
Take, for example, a recent case decided by the Superior Court of Quebec, Zaccardo c. Chartis Insurance Company of Canada, 2016 QCCS 398. The case concerned a teenager who was catastrophically injured during a hockey game in October 2010. The court awarded the injured teenager and his family $8 million in damages, the largest sports-related personal injury award ever made in Canada. The defendants in the case had admitted that the damages should be assessed at $8 million, but disputed that they were liable for those damages
The accident that caused the injury happened less than one minute into a minor league Midget AA hockey game, when the then 16-year-old plaintiff was body checked from behind by an opposing team player, the defendant. The defendant jumped up with his entire body and slammed into the plaintiff from behind, sending the plaintiff into the boards. The accident resulted in a broken rib, fractured vertebrae, and a damaged spinal cord. As a result of these injuries, the plaintiff has quadriplegia, and is confined to a wheelchair.
The plaintiff was a very talented hockey player and in the 11th grade at the time of the incident. He underwent surgery and spent almost two years in hospitals and rehabilitation centres following his injuries. He lost his ability to walk and to participate in hockey and other athletic endeavours. His family was also devastated and significantly affected by the incident. His mother gave up a 20-year career to care for her son.
The trial judge found the defendant at fault for causing the plaintiff’s injuries. From video and witness testimony, the trial judge concluded that the body check was deliberate, not accidental, and that the defendant had sufficient time to change direction or reduce the impact. In addition, the defendant had used his forearm to push the plaintiff into the boards, and increased the power behind the blow by jumping.
The judge ruled that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from actions that exceeded the expected risks of participating in hockey. The trial judge awarded the plaintiff $6.6 million for damages, including attendant care, medical, and rehabilitation expenses, loss of future income, and pain and suffering. His mother was awarded $1 million, while his father and younger brother were awarded $350,000 and $50,000 respectively.
During the trial, the judge did not accept defense counsel’s argument that the plaintiff had accepted the risk of being body checked from behind, as well as the risk that other players would violate league rules, given that doing such violations are prevalent. Rather, the judge held that all players are entitled to the expectation that the other players will take reasonable steps to avoid actions that will cause serious injury.
The trial judge took into account the fact that the players were aware that the hockey league prohibited hitting from behind. Hockey Canada and Hockey Quebec were removed as defendants in the lawsuit when it was shown that referees, parents, and coaches all stressed the dangers of cross-checking from behind. The hockey organizations went so far as to describe hits from behind as cowardly and dangerous acts. The players in the plaintiff’s league wore stop signs on the back of their jerseys to remind players not to check from behind. The trial judge also considered the fact that the ‘at fault’ player had a prior suspension for checking from behind.
Although the amount awarded in this case is unmatched to date in Canada, there are also two British Columbia cases in which the plaintiffs were awarded $4 million each for severe injuries sustained after being checked from behind during a hockey game.
The magnitude of the damages awarded in this and other sports injury cases serve as a warning to players, sports organizations, parents, and coaches. These individuals and entities have an obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent injury to others. Even in the context of a full contact sport, some forms of physical contact will constitute negligence. The existence of inherent risk does not negate the duty of care and responsibility players have towards other players. Safety should always the first concern. The consequences and ramifications for overly aggressive and unsafe behavior during a game can be costly, irreversible, and life-altering.
If you have been injured while participating in a sport, the French and English speaking lawyers at Burn Tucker Lachaîne LLP have the experience to help you understand your rights, evaluate your claim, and fight for the compensation you deserve.
Call us, drop in, or visit us online today. Our empathetic staff are very accommodating and will make the necessary arrangements to facilitate a meeting.
|By Colleen Burn of Burn Tucker Lachaîne LLP Personal Injury Lawyers on June 03, 2016|
|Tags: Negligence, Personal Injury, Safety, Serious Injury|