The remarkable damages award was made by the Quebec Superior Court on February 1 to a hockey player who was injured during a game and his family.1 The Court took the opportunity to clarify the notions of civil fault and acceptance of risk in a sports context.
On October 3, 2010, the Montreal Royal were playing the Laval Patriotes in a Midget AA game. Less than a minute into the game, Ludovic Gauvreau-Beaupré (Beaupré) checked 16 year-old Andrew Zaccardo violently from behind. Zaccardo was knocked into the boards and collapsed on the ice. Today he is a quadriplegic.
The Zaccardo family sued Beaupré, along with Hockey Québec, Hockey Canada and their insurer (which covered all participants in the hockey leagues under their purview). However, the case against Hockey Québec and Hockey Canada was dropped shortly before trial.
In analyzing the case, Justice Payette said that a hockey rink is not beyond the reach of the law. Evidence introduced at trial showed that both Hockey Québec and Hockey Canada prohibit checking from behind, boarding and charging, which is defined as “taking more than two steps or strides to contact an opposing player.”
Numerous publications by Hockey Québec and Hockey Canada emphasize the risks of checking from behind. The Court said that players, coaches and referees are made aware of the serious injuries, particularly spinal cord injuries, that can result.
The Court considered that Beaupré never lost sight of Zaccardo: therefore there was nothing accidental about the incident. Although Beaupré’s conduct was not premeditated, it was deliberate. Consequently, the Court found Beaupré liable as he had not acted as a prudent and diligent player would do in the same circumstances. In an aside, the judge remarked, however, that there are certain circumstances where an infringement of the rules of hockey would not be considered a civil fault.
Acceptance of the risk
In his defence, Beaupré pleaded that by taking part in the game on October 3, 2010, Zaccardo accepted the inherent risks of hockey, including that of being checked from behind. However, the Court rejected this argument on the basis that a participant in any sport assumes only those reasonable risks that are inherent in the practice of the sport.
Finding fault, injury and a causal relationship in this case, the Court ordered Beaupré and his insurer solidarily to pay damages of $8 million ($6.6 million to Andrew Zaccardo, $1 million to his mother, $350,000 to his father and $50,000 to his brother).
The Court did not break down the total award of $8 million into various heads of damages, noting that the quantum of damages had been agreed upon by the parties. We do know, however, that the award covers damages, interest, the additional indemnity and experts’ costs.
- Zaccardo et al v Gauvreau-Beaupré et al, 2016 QCCS 398 (Que. Sup. Ct.).