A $500,000 lawsuit has been launched by a father claiming unprovoked assault and battery whose teen was allegedly beaten during a hockey game in Edmonton, Canada.
According to the Calgary Sun, the incident took place this past March when the teen, Hale Deleeuw was playing for the Strathcona Warriors in a Midget minor hockey match. The teens father, Darcy Deleeuw alleged that his son was “forcibly body-checked” by Varga, another player, while behind the net and without the puck. As his son skated to the bench for a line change, Darcy alleges Varga punched his son in the side of his head until “he lay there unconscious.”
Deleeuw reportedly suffered “severe” physical and psychological injuries including “a concussion, a whiplash associated disorder, multiple contusions, abrasions, bruises and lacerations to the head and face and nervous shock and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Deleeuw filed his statement of claim in the Court of Queen’s Bench on March 25, and named Varga and Mustangs head coach Clayton Prenioslo and the Warburg Minor Hockey Association as defendants as “they were all negligent for failing to ensure Deleeuw was reasonably safe from serious personal assaults while playing hockey.”
The Calgary Sun has a poll at the end of the article asking whether readers think $500,000 is a reasonable amount to sue for in this case. What do you think? Do you think Deleeuw’s son assumed the risk by playing a sport that is inherently dangerous or do you think that the other player stepped out of line and should pay for the alleged severe beating? In addition, do you think that the coach has a duty to ensure that his players are reasonably safe from serious personal assaults during the game?
SOURCE: Calgary Sun
The Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled on a case very similar to this issue. In McKichan v. St. Louis Hockey Club, the court found that, with regard to the assumption of risk involved in injuries suffered during a hockey game, the determination of whether a player’s violent conduct towards another is actionable is dependent on an analysation of relevant factors that should be applied on case by case basis. These factors include the: “specific game involved, the ages and physical attributes of the participants, their respective skills at the game and their knowledge of its rules and customs, their status as amateurs or professionals, the type of risks which inhere to the game and those which are outside the realm of reasonable anticipation, the presence or absence of protective uniforms or equipment, the degree of zest with which the game is being played, and other factors.” (McKichan v. St. Louis Hockey Club, 967 S.W.2d 209 (Mo. App. 1998)).
In the McKichan case, the Defendant was a hockey player that cross checked the goalie of the opposing team who had his back turned. The Defendant skated at full speed, while ignoring two whistles that were blown stopping the game, to cross check the goalie thereby knocking him unconscious. The court found though that cross checking is a part of the game and one should reasonably anticipate the risk of getting cross checked at some point, even if you weren’t looking and the game was stopped. The court therefore ruled that there was no cause of action.
Following that analysis I believe one can reasonably assume that there will be a risk of fighting in hockey, even if you do get sucker punched, and so I don’t believe the father will legally prevail.
I think that in general, it is fairly difficult to win a “sport tort” case. Especially when it comes to an inherently violent sport like hockey, the threshold for risk assumption is quite high. That being said, there should be different standards for minor hockey where there are young kids involved. A player does not assume the risk of activities that would not be normally expected to occur in a game. While in adult professional hockey, fistfights are common, and I imagine a sucker punch would be as well. However, for youth hockey, I do not believe that such a risk is assumed. Parents would not consent to their kids playing hockey if they expected them to get sucker punched in the face. The league and coaches should preach good sportsmanship to their players, as well as playing the game in a way to avoid seriously injuring another player. While I am not familiar with Canadian case law on the issue, I think that 500K would be a reasonable amount and that the young boy and his family should prevail.
I agree with Matthew that the plaintiff in this case should prevail. As a hockey fan, I enjoy seeing fights, but this was not a fight. When the plaintiff was checked without the puck, a penalty should have been called. Such penalties are somewhat common in the sport, especially in youth hockey. It is what occurred after the hit that changed the situation from a hockey violation to a legal violation. There is fighting in hockey, but a fight is not allowed to occur unless the players consent to fight, almost like a duel. Gloves are dropped, and the fight begins. Sucker punching a kid in the side of the head, as he are merely trying to skate off the ice, is certainly another penalty. However, repeatedly striking someone in the head to the point of a concussion along with other physical and psychological injuries is disgusting. The attacker in this case deserves legal sanctions, and I hope he can never play hockey again.