Liability for Hockey-Related Personal Injuries

Hockey Liability in Ontario

In the 2020 case Casterton v. MacIsaac,[1] the court had occasion to review and apply the law of liability for hockey injuries.

The facts of this particular case were that, on March 12, 2012, during the last minute of a recreational hockey game, the defendant collided with the plaintiff causing the plaintiff to be knocked off his feet, hit his head on the ice and lose consciousness briefly. The plaintiff suffered a concussion, two broken teeth and cuts on his face and inside his mouth; the defendant was uninjured.

The issue of the liability for injuries sustained during a hockey game has moved from requiring evidence of intent to harm to applying the general rules of negligence.

The first statement of the law in this area was articulated in a case before the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 1965. The law recognizes the context that hockey players assume a risk of physical injury. Hockey necessarily involves violent bodily contact; thus, a person who engages in this sport must be assumed to accept the risk of accidental harm and to waive any claim he or she would have had. However, the law places a limit on a player’s immunity from liability. Injuries inflicted in circumstances which showed a definite resolve to cause serious injury to another, even when there is provocation and in the heat of the game, should not fall within the scope of implied consent.

Subsequently, however, in 1991, the Ontario Divisional Court clarified that an injured player didn’t need to prove an intention to injure. Consent does not exist in circumstances which show the application of a very great force while demonstrating a reckless lack of regard as to whether serious injury is caused.

Again, in 1994, the British Columbia Court of Appeal redefined the test for liability for hockey-related injuries as being a form of negligence, where the standard of care is determined by what would a reasonable competitor, in the place of the defendant, do or not do. Factors considered include the speed, the amount of bodily contact, stresses in the sport and reasonable risks expected in the game.

In summary, the state of the law is now that you do not have to prove intent to harm or reckless disregard but that the injury was caused by conduct that fell outside of what a reasonable competitor would expect in the circumstances. Even taking into account the context, 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.

If a court finds that an injury was caused by conduct that was intentionally malicious, the analysis can end there. In deciding whether the conduct was out of the ordinary or beyond the bounds of fair play, relevant considerations are the type of league in which the game was played, the level of play in the league, the applicable rules and the nature of the game.[2]

After considering all the evidence, and in applying the law to the facts of this particular case, the judge found the defendant to be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The supporting facts for this analysis were as follows. The defendant was skating very fast during the collision whereas the plaintiff was skating at a more moderate speed. The defendant approached to point of collision on a slightly diagonal trajectory. The plaintiff had not made a sharp, unexpected turn. The defendant anticipated the collision, whereas the plaintiff did not. The defendant either deliberately attempted to injure the plaintiff or was reckless about the possibility that he would do so.[3]

The defendant was ordered to pay the plaintiff $63,000 in general damages, $199,512 in past lost income and $440,039 in future lost income.

[1] Casterton v. MacIsaac, 2020 ONSC 190 (CanLII) (

[2] Ibid, paras. 6-18. (

[3] Ibid, paras. 62-124. (

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