When You are Hurt Playing Sports Can You Sue?

by Kris Bonn
Sports Injuries are common in winter sports such as ice hockey

Hockey is ubiquitous in Canada and sacred to many Canadians. Adult recreational leagues are in every community of every size. I have played hockey since I was five years old and only stopped a couple of years ago when I was forty-three due the time constraints of being a lawyer and having a young family. But what happens if you are injured in a recreational hockey game due to the conduct of another player, can you sue for your injuries? The short answer is yes. But the devil is in the details. Justice Sally Gomery recently reviewed the law on sporting injuries in the case of Casterton v. MacIsaac, 2020 ONSC 190 (CanLII).

The facts of the case are not complex. On March 15, 2012, in a recreational hockey game, Drew Casterton (the plaintiff) collided with Gordon MacIsaac (the defendant), a player on the opposing team. Casterton was knocked off his feet, hit his head on the ice and lost consciousness briefly. He suffered a concussion, two broken teeth, and cuts on his face and inside his mouth. MacIsaac was not injured. Casterton alleged that MacIsaac blindsided him with an intentional hit. MacIsaac contended that he and Casterton accidentally collided after Casterton made a sharp, unexpected left turn. The question for the Court was whether MacIsaac was legally liable for Casterton’s injuries.

Justice Gomery reviewed past cases of sporting injuries and confirmed that while a hockey player implicitly consents to a risk of injury inherent to a fast-paced and sometimes physically violent sport, 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. If the facts proved that MacIsaac’s hit on Casterton was intentionally malicious, he would be liable. The more difficult question to consider was if the facts did not support that his act was malicious, was his conduct in fact out of the ordinary or beyond the bounds of fair play. Justice Gomery noted that in making this assessment, she would consider the type of league in which the game was played, the level of play in the league, the applicable rules and the nature of the game.

After hearing from many witnesses from both teams, Justice Gomery accepted as fact that MacIsaac either deliberately attempted to injure Casterton or was reckless about the possibility that he would do so. Further, she determined that even if the hit was not intentional or reckless, MacIsaac would still be liable as a blindside hit to a player’s face is outside the bounds of fair play. She ordered MacIsaac to pay Casterton $63,000 for pain and suffering and over $640,000 for loss of income. An expensive hit indeed!

The lesson to take from this case is to remember that when we are playing in recreational sports leagues the law still applies. We are all playing these sports for fun. If there is an accidental injury that is part of the game, that happens and no one will be liable. But if you are reckless or act outside the bounds of fair play, you could be held legally liable for the injuries you cause.