Redress Risk Management (post until May 31/19)
Personal Injury

Similarities between injuries on the playground and the sports field

Organized sports administrators — like school boards — can’t be expected to anticipate every risk participants and students face on their watch, Toronto personal injury lawyer Jennifer Hoffman tells AdvocateDaily.com.

In a recent Ontario Court of Appeal judgment, a unanimous panel of the province’s top court upheld a motion judge’s decision to dismiss a soccer player’s case against various league organizers and coaches after he was assaulted by an opposing player.

Citing a series of cases concerning injuries on school properties, the appeal court reaffirmed existing case law stating that “supervising authorities are not legally responsible for ‘a sudden unexpected event in the midst of an acceptable, safe activity.’”

Hoffman, a partner with the Toronto firm Wolfe Lawyers who was not involved in the case and comments generally, says she was not surprised to see the appeal court make the connection between the sports field and the playground, and explains that plaintiffs must show an incident was reasonably foreseeable before they can recover for damages as a result of injury.

“Here, the evidence suggests that the assault was done in the heat of the moment, and there was no suggestion that the league, team owners or coaches could have reasonably foreseen it would happen based on the man’s past conduct,” says Hoffman who frequently represents students for claims involving school boards.

According to the decision, one of the defendants was convicted criminally of assaulting the plaintiff by running up and punching him following an altercation between one of his teammates and the plaintiff.

However, the victim also sued the defendant’s team, the soccer league and a number of coaches, arguing they should have anticipated his conduct and dealt with the problem before it escalated.

But the appeal court agreed with the motion judge who dismissed the civil claim against all defendants except the puncher, declaring that his previous suspensions for being “verbally inappropriate” with referees were not predictive of the violent outburst.  

Still, Hoffman says the decision does not rule out any claim by players against league administrators for negligence or under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, and says the result could have been different if the fight had gone on longer or without a reasonable attempt to break it up.

“The longer a fight goes on, the more reasonably foreseeable it becomes that someone will throw a punch,” she says.

Hoffman says sports organizers can minimize their potential exposure by establishing codes of conduct for players.

“Everybody should be aware of the rules, know what is expected of them and why,” she says.

In addition, when there is any sign of an altercation turning physical, she says supervisors should be ready to act.

“They should do everything in their power to break it up, and attempt to resolve the situation as quickly and safely as possible. Of course, we can’t expect people to put themselves in harm’s way either,” Hoffman says.

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