Personal injury court cases do not normally make the news, but Casterton v MacIsaac has hit the headlines. It is being heralded as opening the door to personal injury compensation for vicious sports injuries.
What does this decision mean for those playing in amateur and recreational sports leagues? Does it spell the end of weekend sport? Can you be sued for minor physical contact in recreational or amateur sports leagues?
Approach to lawsuits for sports injury claims in the 1960s
Courts in Canada have long held that anyone indulging in sporting activities accepts a certain degree of injury risk. In Agar v. Canning (1965), the judges made it clear that a player implicitly accepts a certain risk of accidental harm.
The conduct of a player in the heat of the game is instinctive and unpremeditated and should not be judged by standards suited to polite social intercourse.
Simply stated, the case set a precedent that, in the case of an ice hockey accident, a player could not claim compensation for injuries sustained.
What was the attacking player’s intention?
In the ensuing years, the courts have softened that strict exclusion by taking into consideration the intention of the player who caused harm. In Unruh v Webber (1994), the court suggested that a ‘standard of care test’ should be established:
‘What would a reasonable competitor do?’
Accordingly, players should expect reasonable physical contact, but within the bounds of fair play. In Kempf v Nguyen (2015), the court suggested that the intentions of the player who caused the injury should be considered.
Conduct in these contact sports [like ice hockey] becomes unacceptable only when it is malicious, out of the ordinary or beyond the bounds of fair play
Does the 2020 case of Casterton v MacIsaac open up ice hockey and other sporting accidents to broader sports injury claims?
What happened in this ice hockey game?
In 2012, Casterton and MacIsaac were playing in a ‘beer league’ hockey game organized by the Ontario Senior Men’s Hockey League. Most players were in their late twenties, and many had some childhood hockey experience.
Seconds before the referee was to signal the end of the game, MacIsaac struck Casterton on his head. Testimony from the referee and other players suggested MacIsaac had deliberately charged towards Casterton, blind-siding and high-sticking him in the head.
Casterton suffered a brain injury and lost his front teeth. He filed a claim for the dramatic and long term impact the brain injuries had on his personal and professional life.
Fact-finding and decision
The judge noted that MacIsaac could not only have avoided the collision but purposely positioned his body to maximize the impact of his check. She held:
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… a blindside hit to the face is and was outside the bounds of fair play.
Casterton was awarded $63,000 as general damages, $199,512 in past lost income, and $440,039 in future lost income as sports injury compensation.
What does this mean for injuries in amateur sports?
Justice Gomery summed up the evolution of the courts’ findings of compensation for sports injuries sustained during amateur games:
Courts have moved from requiring evidence of intent to harm to applying the general rules of negligence, adapting them to the context of a sport where some risk of injury is inevitable.
Only time will tell as to whether or not the decision will open injury claims in amateur sports. However, here are some takeaways from the decision:
- Amateur sports injuries are not immune to lawsuits
- Players’ conduct must not be outside the bounds of fair play
- Aggressive players may not be able to claim unqualified immunity for violent actions
- Players with higher skill levels may be held to a higher standard of game conduct
- The intentions behind a player’s actions will be taken into account by the court
What kind of sports injuries can you sue for?
Casterton v MacIsaac speaks to sports where physical contact is expected, and there exists a reasonable risk of physical injury. That would reasonably be expected to include such sports as hockey, football, soccer, lacrosse, and boxing. However, this ruling may open the door to compensation for injuries sustained due to malice or negligence in other sports, too.
Speak to a sports injury lawyer in Toronto if you have been injured while playing a sport, whether as an amateur or a professional. Players, professional associations, and venue managers are responsible for maintaining a safe game environment.
Do you need to wear the most protective gear possible, even if it is uncomfortable?
The question of contributory negligence arose in this case. It was alleged that Casterton could have minimized the injuries he sustained had he been wearing a full protective cage instead of a half-visor on his helmet. The court disagreed with that argument. Since the league that Casterton was playing in allowed half-visors, the court held that Casterton could be found to be negligent for wearing a half-visor – rather than full facial protection.
The defence’s argument, that Casterton’s regular cannabis use had reduced his reaction times, was also unsuccessful. The court ruled that, though he was a recreational and social user, Casterton did not consume cannabis in quantities that would affect his reaction times appreciably.
What should you do if you or a loved one has suffered a sports injury in an amateur league?
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury while participating in an amateur sport, get in touch with Pace Law immediately. Our lawyers can help you offset the immediate costs of medical treatment, as well as safeguarding your long term rehabilitation. We are committed to being “client first” and will explore all legal options, including lawsuits and insurance claims.