Not Just Fun and Games: Body Check in Recreational Hockey Game Leads to $700,000 Damage Award

In the last minute of a recreational hockey game in the “Alexander Keith division” of an Ontario “senior” men’s beer league, Drew Casterton suffered a head injury that a court determined will affect him for the rest of his life. Casterton had just shot the puck away from his team’s net when Gordon MacIsaac, a player on the opposing team, struck Casterton with a blindside hit to the head.

In Casterton v. MacIsaac, 2020 ONSC 190, an Ontario judge found that MacIsaac “deliberately attempted to injure Casterton or was reckless about the possibility that he would do so” when he collided with him. Casterton was hit in the face, banged his head on the ice, briefly lost consciousness, and suffered a concussion along with two broken teeth as a result of MacIsaac’s hit. The judge found MacIsaac liable for the collision and ordered that he pay Casterton over $700,000 in damages to compensate for the dramatic impact the collision has had and will continue to have on Casterton.

Canadian courts have considered whether hockey players should be held liable for injuries they cause during games more than once. The law provides that, in choosing to play recreational hockey, a player assumes the possibility of suffering injuries that reasonably come with the sport. Put another way, players have to accept that accidents happen when they’re on the ice. Players are inadvertently struck with opposing players’ sticks quite often in hockey and might sustain a bruise or two, but this is not generally something an opposing player could be sued for.

The league Casterton and MacIsaac played in was a recreational, no-contact league. Body-checking was punishable as a major penalty. The judge accepted that a player could expect they might be injured while playing in the league, since hockey is a fast-paced sport with some inevitable contact, but that 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.”

Every player who testified at trial agreed that a blindside hit to the face is well outside those bounds. The referee – who had officiated about 600 games at the time of the game in question – testified that he had never seen “such an act of violence” in a hockey game before. The act was so violent that MacIsaac was actually charged with and convicted of assault twice in connection to the incident; however the charge against him was eventually stayed.

Not only was the severity of MacIsaac’s conduct unacceptable under the league’s rules, the judge found that he was on the hook for Casterton’s injuries, which have seriously affected his quality of life and ability to earn income.

This case demonstrates that individuals playing recreational sports can be held responsible for injuries they inflict, whether or not they intend to cause harm, if their conduct falls outside what a “reasonable competitor” would expect.  Should they fail to meet this standard, players may find themselves on thin ice.

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