Civil Liability in the Arena of Professional Sports
Article originally published in the June 2003 issue of the UBC Law Review
Excerpt from "Stock Options: Extending Employee Ownership Rights":
On February 21, 2000, Boston Bruins’ defenseman Marty McSorley struck Vancouver Canucks’ forward Donald Brashear on the side of the head with his hockey stick. Brashear was skating away from McSorley at the time. Immediately rendered unconscious and unable to brace his fall, Brashear fell backwards, violently banged the back of his head on the ice, and suffered a severe concussion which ended his season. The incident occurred late in the game after the outcome had already been decided in Vancouver’s favour, without direct provocation and completely away from the ongoing play on the ice at that time. It was replayed on television and over the Internet across North America for days. The National Hockey League (“NHL”) immediately suspended McSorley from further play while reviewing the incident, and ultimately suspended him for one entire year of play.
While hitting and violence are a part of NHL hockey, the McSorley/Brashear incident went far beyond anything that normally occurs in an NHL game – so much so that the Province of British Columbia took the rare step of charging McSorley with the crime of assault.
Fortunately, Brashear recovered from his injuries and continued his career in the NHL the following season – a career which saw Brashear sign a new contract prior to the 2002/03 NHL season for four years at U.S.$2 million per year. However, what might have happened if Brashear had been unable to resume his career? At the time of the McSorley/Brashear incident, there was some speculation as to whether Brashear might bring civil action against McSorley. Had Brashear been unable to resume his career and instituted civil action against McSorley and the Boston Bruins, the litigation would have been of great interest and importance since on-ice or on-field violence has rarely given rise to civil liability in the context of professional sports.
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