Determining Responsibility For Assault During A Soccer Match

Most people know that sporting events can sometimes leave participants with unwanted bumps, bruises, and cuts. However, nobody expects to be assaulted on the field of play. A recent recreational soccer match in Hamilton ended with one player punching another, leading the victim to sue  the league, the venue, and the team. The victim lost a summary judgment before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, but appealed the decision, which was heard by the province’s Court of Appeal.

The assault

The action arose as a result of an assault that occurred during a soccer game on September 9, 2010. The match was between the North Mississauga Soccer Club (“North Mississauga”) and the Hamilton Sparta teams, which both played in the Ontario Soccer Association (the “OSA”).  The incident was between a player from each team, who were both 16-years-old at the time. The victim, who played for North Mississauga, was punched in an unprovoked attack by a player on the Sparta. The assault occurred near the Sparta bench after the referee blew the whistle to stop play. The assailant was convicted of a criminal offence as a result of the punch. At trial, the assailant testified that the assault was an impulsive act, and “he knew he was not to punch other players and did it anyways.”

The first hearing

The victim initially brought action against the other player, the league, the venue, and the opposing team. The motion judge granted summary judgment dismissing the actions against all parties other than the assailant.

After determining the case was appropriate for summary judgment, the motion judge turned to whether or not the defendants breached the standard of care owed to the victim, and whether that breach resulted in his injuries.  The victim made a number of claims for negligence against the defendants, which the motion judge summarized as:

  • The defendants ought to have known of (the assailant’s) violent behaviour given the two prior incidents and should have anticipated his conduct and not allowed him to play in the game or taken other action to prevent the assault;
  • The defendants ought to have known of (the assailant’s) violent behaviour and ran on the field to stop him before he attacked (the victim);
  • The coach was not properly trained;
  • Proper policies and procedures were not in place with respect to training of coaches and player safety;
  • Proper policies were not in place to ensure that (the assailant’s) prior conduct was reported by (the coach) which could have led to (the assailant’s) suspension prior to this soccer game.

In order for the defendants to be found negligent in cases such as this, the Supreme Court of Canada has stated, “As a general rule, a Plaintiff cannot succeed unless she shows as a matter of fact that she would not have suffered the loss ‘but for’ the negligent acts of the defendant.” The motion judge found the victim failed to establish this, and as a result, the actions against all but the assailant were dismissed.

The appeal

The victim appealed on three grounds, being:

  1.    The respondents were negligent in their supervision of the game, and breached several standards of care, including the standard for coaches, for on-field supervision and for player conduct;
  2.    The respondents were liable under the Occupiers Liability ActR.S.O. 1990, c. 0.2. for failing to ensure that the playing field was safe; and
  3.    The motion judge erred in finding that these arguments on the evidence did not raise genuine issues requiring a trial.

The court agreed with the motion judge that the victim had failed to establish that the actions (or lack of) by the other defendants resulted in the assailant committing the assault. The court also found no error in the motion judge’s determination that there was no evidence of “any side safety issues or that the playing field was not safe,” thus rejecting the second ground of appeal. Lastly, the court was satisfied that the case was appropriate for summary judgment. As a result, the appeal was dismissed.

The experienced and outstanding personal injury lawyers at Derfel Law represent victims of all types of personal injury, including premise liability. We work tirelessly to achieve the best resolution to our client’s personal injury matters, seeking maximum compensation and a speedy resolution. Please contact us online or by phone at 416.847.3580 to see how we can assist you today.