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

Although infrequent, Canadian courts have occasionally imposed civil and even criminal liability following injuries at sporting events.  The latest such case was published this week out of Ontario.

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

The parties were playing in a recreational senior hockey league.  It was a no contact league though incidental contact was part of the game.  The plaintiff accepted that accidental contact was part of the risk of playing.  Blindside hits, however, were absolutely prohibited and the Court accepted that such hits were not consented to either expressly or implicitly as part of playing.

The Defendant collided with the Plaintiff resulting in fairly severe injury.  He 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.

In the civil lawsuit the Court heard conflicting evidence but ultimately found that the Defendant was liable as the contact was from a prohibited blindside hit.  The collision caused the Plaintiff to suffer a concussion, two broken teeth and various cuts.  Damages of over $700,000 were assessed comprised of $63,000 in general damages, $199,512 in past lost income, and $440,039 in future income loss.

In imposing liability from the body check Justice Sally Gomery made the following findings and provided the below reasons:

[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.

[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.