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Personal Injury

Standards of care not breached in soccer melee: appeal court

A recent ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal that examined the responsibility of a soccer association, team and coach to prevent violence in a match will not displace any of the existing principles of the Occupiers’ Liability Act, says Ottawa personal injury lawyer David Hollingsworth.

In the case, a soccer player brought forward the suit after an opponent punched and injured him during a game, he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“In dismissing this lawsuit, the evidence showed there was nothing that any of the defendants could have reasonably been expected to do to prevent the punch,” says Hollingsworth, principal of Ottawa Personal Injury Lawyers.

The man who threw the punch was criminally convicted for the assault, he says.

In the suit, the claimant’s counsel argued the sports club, the provincial soccer association and three team officials were negligent, Hollingsworth says, adding that following a dismissal of the suit in 2017, the claimant launched an appeal.

The plaintiff suggested the defendants were liable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act as they did not ensure the playing field was safe and should have been able to predict the violence based on the defendant’s past behaviour, he explains.

Given the evidence presented to the court, Hollingsworth says the conclusion to dismiss the appeal is understandable.

“The court focused on the nature of the violent act itself, and whether it was foreseeable that the offending player would injure the appellant,” he says.

“The court found that it was an unpredictable act and that the offending player was aware that it was illegal for him to punch an opposing player. There was no prior history by this player to suggest that he would act the way he did, even though he had previously been verbally inappropriate with referees.”

Hollingsworth says this case also shines a spotlight on the standard of care required by a coach.

“It seems the court is saying that there is little impact that a coach might have had in preventing this injury. His player knew that it was not acceptable, but acted in an unpredictable and impulsive manner and no further training of a coach would have prevented it," he says.

Hollingsworth says the appeal court decision was correct in its examination of the Occupiers’ Liability Act when it comes to the field of play and predicting injury.

“The court has found that there was no evidence to suggest the safety of the premises was in doubt, as there may have been if the condition of the turf had been in part to blame for the injuries, as an example.”

While the plaintiffs argued that the defendants breached several standards of care, including the standard for coaches, on-field supervision and player conduct, Hollingsworth says it was rightly decided that no standards of care were breached in any of these areas.

“The standard of care in a situation where a player acts in a reckless way relies very heavily on the facts of the case, and the general behaviour of the offending player and the other individuals involved,” he explains.

“The violence wasn’t foreseeable so those in charge could not have prevented it.”

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