Archive | November 12, 2013

Tort Law’s Inapplicability to Extreme Sports: The Death of Canadian Ski Cross Racer Nik Zoricic

November 12, 2013

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By Kelsey Petersen – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

The National Post, in their coverage of the death of Canadian Ski Cross racer Nik Zoricic, quoted head coach, Eric Archer, as saying “the athletes are all searching for the same elusive thing: the edge of possibility.All truly elite athletes are searching for that line – they are trying to push the boundary of what humans can do.” In many extreme sports, pushing the boundaries leads to a form of risk taking that the law of negligence has yet to appreciate.Plaintiffs who are hurt while engaging in high risk activities do not fit within a doctrine that uses reasonableness as its central criterion.

Referred to NASCAR on skis, ski cross features up to six athletes racing side by side over banked corners and jumps 140 feet in length.Ski Cross began, and gained its popularity in the X-Games, and has been modified only slightly to become a World Cup and Olympic event.While the World Cup circuit features only four competitors racing at a time, as compared to six at a time in X-Games competition, the extreme nature of competition has transcended into the alpine racing circuit yet is not subject to the same regulations that traditional alpine disciplines enjoy.

Tim Danson, attorney for the Zoricic family, has called the death of Nik Zoricic the result of “gross negligence of race organizers and officials.”Although the Swiss police report found there to have been no third party causation involved in the crash, Danson is calling for the International Ski Federation (FIS) and Alpine Canada to conduct their own independent investigations to determine whether improper jump trajectory, safety measures and grooming protocols were responsible for Zoricic’s death.

While Smolden v Whitworth held that sport is not a special case with its own discrete jurisprudence, divorced from established general principles, the specific circumstances are of crucial importance in determining the applicability of tort principles.In addition to defining what is reasonable versus unreasonable risk within extreme sports, the court must evaluate the fundamental nature of the sport, and the defendant’s role and relationship to the sport, to determine whether the defendant owes a duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm.

Athletes involved in extreme sports are often anything but careful, pushing the boundaries of risk taking to be successful in their sport; yet participating in a dangerous sport does not mean that an athlete consents to negligence which increases the risks posed by the sport itself.The defence of voluntary assumption of risk is yet another area to expose tort law’s inability to apply to extreme sports.“Traditionally, the assumption of risk defence barred a plaintiff’s claim, whether his behaviour was reasonable or unreasonable, on the ground that he voluntarily chose to encounter a known danger.” The assumption of risk doctrine is even more important in extreme sports where, by their nature, they are inherently dangerous.The risk of injury is extremely high without the defendant’s negligence increasing the likelihood of injury.While the voluntary assumption of risk defence continues to apply to dangers inherent in the sport, duty can be imposed if the defendant, through their negligence, increased the inherent risks of the sport. 

R v Jobidon held, in a criminal law context, that one cannot consent to death or grievous bodily harm. Can the principle of negligence follow with the assertion that an athlete cannot consent to death in extreme sports?  The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili prompted the following statement: “No sports mistake is supposed to lead to death.No sports mistake is supposed to be fatal.” While extreme sports adhere to a practice of increased risk, tort law principles must be modified to allow for the increased nature of risk in extreme sports to be preserved while maintaining the athlete’s right to impose liability on those guilty of negligence.

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NHL is not taking the threat of concussions seriously enough

November 12, 2013

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By Hafiz Karim – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

Concussions have become a prominent issue in the world of hockey and they are becoming more and more noticeable in the National Hockey League.Through the first month of this season, the rate of concussions in the NHL is up by about 30%.Just this season alone, we’ve seen star players such as Rick Nash, Dustin Penner, Danny Briere and Dan Boyle all suffer concussions.

There is no doubt that concussions are an extremely serious issue and the NHL Player Safety department has tried to address this.Rule 48.1 of the Official NHL Rulebook defines illegal checks to the head.It states that, “a hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.”The NHL states that they take this issue seriously and in reality they generally hand out suspensions for illegal checks to the head.Whether the sanctions given out to players who deliver headshots is adequate or even working is a question for another day.

The NHL makes a point of denouncing checks to the head but are they doing enough?One of my biggest problems with the NHL’s denunciation of headshots is that it is largely reactive rather than proactive.What I mean by that is that the NHL will suspend a player if he makes a deliberate and dangerous hit if a player gets injured, but they rarely seem to do anything over an attempted dangerous hit.

An example of this occurred last week in a game on November 2nd between the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs.Henrik Sedin, star centre of the Vancouver Canucks, cut to the front of the net and as he did so, Joffrey Lupul of the Maple Leafs, stuck out his elbow and took a run at Sedin.Sedin later said that he saw the elbow coming for his head out of the corner of his eye and was able to duck out of the way at the last minute.Lupul came at such speed that when he missed Sedin’s head, his momentum carried him forward and he ended up hitting his teammate Nazem Kadri in the head with his elbow.The game was being broadcasted by CBC as part of their Hockey Night in Canada program and it was astounding that the commentators did not reference this attempted dirty hit nor was there a replay shown of it during the game.It may have gone entirely unnoticed if not for social media, which picked up on it and the video clip went viral following the game.

The first time I watched the video, I thought it was hilarious that Lupul ended up elbowing his own teammate in the head.Only later did I realize how bad that could have been if Lupul’s cheap shot had actually connected with Sedin’s head when he was in a vulnerable position.Henrik Sedin is one of the star players on the Vancouver Canucks and is currently tied for third in points in the NHL this season.He also is second in the active Ironman streak in the league that recognizes most consecutive games played.That could have all ended had Lupul’s elbow connected.The Canucks were dominating the Leafs and Lupul must have been frustrated or angry because there is no doubt that he deliberately tried injuring Henrik Sedin with an elbow to the head.It amazes me that the league lays sanctions on players if they injure their opponent, but that there are no sanctions for deliberate attempts to injure that do not work.Even if the referees on the ice did not see Lupul’s attempt to injure another player, there is no way that the NHL did not see that play later on as it went viral.  How do you send a message that illegal checks to the head are not OK and are a suspendable offence, but attempting a check to the head is not a big deal as long it doesn’t connect?

In today’s day and age when there is so much evidence of the detriment of brain injuries, it makes zero sense not to punish players for attempting illegal shots to the head.As a Vancouver Province blogger stated, it makes no sense that someone would have to potentially concuss another player before they get suspended, yet they can attempt it as many times as they want without risk, until they connect.  

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