Rec League Hockey Bodycheck Results in $702,551 Damage Award

A recent case in Ontario found a rec league hockey player responsible for significant damages for a blindside hit in a no contact league.

In the recent case (Casterton v. MacIsaac) the Plaintiff successfully sued the Defendant after suffering serious  injuries in a hockey game.

The parties were playing in a recreational senior hockey league that was a “ no contact “ league.

The judge stated as follows:

[111]      The League is a recreational, non-contact league.  Every player who testified nevertheless recognized that hockey is a fast-paced sport where some degree of body contact is inevitable.  Accidental injury is always a risk. Various players talked about past injuries they got from loose pucks. Players in the League, including Casterton, signed a waiver releasing the league from any damages as a result of hockey injuries.

[112]      Injury can be caused by contact with other players. Body checking is punishable as a major penalty. The very existence of this penalty shows that body checking – just like conduct that may attract a minor penalty, such as tripping and hooking – may occur. It is sanctionable, but not completely unexpected conduct.

[113]      In sum, players can expect that they may be accidentally injured during a game, even a game in a recreational, non-contact league. They accept this risk when they play.

[114]      Each player also testified, however, that blindside hits – especially hits to the head – are absolutely prohibited. They have no place in recreational play, or in any hockey game.

In this case the judge found the defendant went outside the bounds of expected play, and had an intention of injurying the plaintiff.

The defendant was initially charged criminally with assault for the incident.  He was convicted but his conviction was overturned on appeal and the charge was ultimately stayed.

The judge commented further as follows:

[120]      I have already rejected some of Desjardins’ evidence; notably, his testimony that MacIsaac was skating parallel to the back boards when the collision occurred.  On the other hand, his recollection about MacIsaac’s body posture just before the collision has been consistent from the time it occurred.  It was the reason why he gave MacIsaac a ten-minute major misconduct penalty.

[121]      Desjardins played in competitive and semi-professional leagues before becoming a referee in 2010. He had officiated about 600 games by March 2012.  He explained why this incident stood out in his memory.  He had no bias towards or against either team or any particular player. He had simply never seen “such an act of violence” in a hockey game; as both a referee and as a player. He was fifteen to twenty feet away from the point of impact, and nothing obstructed his view. In his opinion, MacIsaac deliberately attempted to injure Casterton.

[122]      I conclude that MacIsaac intentionally skated at high speed towards Casterton 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 MacIsaac’s shoulder and forearms and the lower half of Casterton’s face. Casterton 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 Casterton’s theory of how the collision occurred were accepted, this was a blindside hit.

[123]      Based on the evidence of Winton and Desjardins about MacIsaac’s body posture, I find that MacIsaac either deliberately attempted to injure Casterton or was reckless about the possibility that he would do so.  But even if I concluded that the hit was neither intentional nor reckless, applying the test in Kempf, MacIsaac would be liable for Casterton’s injuries because he failed to meet the standard of care applicable to a hockey player in the circumstances. Every player who testified stated that a blindside hit to the face is and was outside the bounds of fair play.

[124]      MacIsaac is therefore liable for the injuries that Casterton suffered during the March 15, 2012 game.

This case shows that where an injury occurs in a non contact rec hockey league, where the hit was shown to have an intention to injure the other player, the aggressive player may be found responsible for damages.

Paul Mitchell, Q.C. is a BC personal injury lawyer who is a Past Member of the Board of Governors of the BC Trial Lawyers Association. He has extensive experience with severe injury claims, including brain injury claims, spinal injury claims, bicycle claims, death claims, ICBC claims, medical malpractice, and other catastrophic injury claims. He acts for injured clients all over BC and Alberta, and will not act for ICBC or any other insurance company.

Contact Paul Mitchell, Q.C. at 250-869-1115 (direct line), or send him a confidential email at [email protected].

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