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Teen Hockey Player Awarded $8 Million for Injuries After Dirty Hit

Switzerland forward Phil Baltisberger leaves the ice on a stretcher while playing against Russia during second period preliminary round hockey action at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Toronto on Sunday, December 28, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Teen Hockey Player Awarded $8 Million for Injuries After Dirty Hit

Kids’ hockey has come up before in our blog, since the sport (and other activities) are often so much a part of Canadian family life.

Readers may be interested to know that – in what appears to be a record-setting Canadian damages award for a sports-related injury – the Quebec Superior Court has awarded $8 million to teenaged minor hockey player who was rendered paraplegic after a violent body-check by another player.

Andrew Zaccardo, aged 16 at the time, was considered a talented player and near the top of his Montreal-area minor hockey league. Less than 40 seconds into a game against another local team, Ludovic Gauvreau-Beaupre, also 16, hit Andrew from behind, using his right arm which was raised to just below neck level. There had been no previous animosity between these two players, and their teams were squaring off for the first time at the beginning of a new season.

Andrew was slammed into the boards, and both his feet left the ground as he hit with full force. He suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair, and with only limited use of his hands.

In making the record-setting award, the trial judge rejected Ludovic’s testimony to the effect that the violent body-check was an accident; this did not accord with other evidence, including a video-recording made by one of the spectators. The trial judge also discounted the fact that the experienced referee overseeing the game had not stopped the game or imposed a penalty on Ludovic for the hit. (Ludovic was later given a standard two-game automatic suspension, however).

The fact was that Andrew’s injury was a direct result of the type of checking that was specifically prohibited by Hockey Quebec regulations and by Hockey Canada. Ludovic knew this type of conduct was not part of the game; he was aware that it was extremely dangerous and strictly prohibited, and that it could cause catastrophic injuries to fellow players, as it tragically did to Andrew.

In making this finding, the trial judge rejected Ludovic’s argument that Andrew knew the nature of the sport and accepted the inherent risk of injury. To the contrary, the judge stated that despite its prevalence, the “body-check-from-behind” was a blemish on the sport of hockey and remained a violation of the duty of “good” behaviour by players towards each other. The fact that other players might engage in prohibited conduct while playing hockey did not absolve Lubovic’s culpable misconduct here.

In short: this was not a simple sports accident for which Andrew assumed the risk; rather, it was a deliberate assault by Ludovic. When measured against what an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person would have done in his place, Ludovic was reckless at worst, and careless at best. On either standard and in all the circumstances, this was sufficient to impose liability on him, the judge found.

The trial judge ordered the insurer and Ludovic to pay over $6 million in damages to cover the care and assistance Andrew (now aged 21) would need for the rest of his life, and to cover the loss of future income due to his impaired mobility. The judge also awarded $1 million to Andrew’s mother (who had to stop work after 20 years on the job in order to look after her son), another $350,000 to his father, and $50,000 to his younger brother, since they were also found eligible for compensation in the circumstances.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Zaccardo v. Chartis Insurance Company of Canada, 2016 QCCS 398 (CanLII),

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