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Torts in Hockey

Hockey is one of the more dangerous sports in which one can participate. It also involves a risk of injury to spectators at the ice rink as well. This article addresses the potential recovery by spectators and participants for injuries that they might receive during a game.

Rink owner’s duty

The hockey rink owner has a duty to maintain the rink using reasonable care for the benefit of both spectators and participants.

Breach of duty to spectators

An owner may breach the duty of reasonable care by failing to properly maintain the seats and steps in the arena. In addition, the owner may breach the duty of reasonable care by failing to erect protective barriers at the boards so as to prevent injury to spectators from flying pucks. Negligence may also be found if the owner fails to maintain proper security to protect spectators from others who become engaged in a fight during the game.

Breach of duty to participants

An owner may breach the duty of reasonable care to participants by failing to properly maintain the ice or by providing them with defective equipment.

Defense

Some courts hold that spectators assume the risk of being hit by flying pucks, which is a common occurrence at a hockey game. However, other courts find that the risk of injury from a flying puck is not so obvious so as to hold that the spectator assumes the risk as a matter of law.

Participants generally assume the inherent risks of the game. However, the defense may not apply in certain situations. A participant may recover against a rink owner if he is injured due to defective equipment, such as a helmet, that was supplied by the owner. He most likely did not assume the risk that the helmet would not adequately protect him. In addition, a participant may recover in a tort action against another participant for injuries caused in a brawl on the ice. Although injuries from fights are an inherent risk of the game, participants generally do not assume the risk that another participant will go well beyond the usual fighting action and attack another participant (e.g., one participant leaves the ice to fight with someone on the other team’s bench). However, it is more likely that the offending participant will be disciplined by the sport’s governing body rather than sued by the injured participant.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.