Sport Organizer Negligent For Failing to Take Reasonable Steps to Enforce Own Rules

While not a case involving combat sports, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating that a sports league can be liable in negligence when they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure their rules of play are being followed.  There are lessons to be learned in cases such as this when it comes to issues such as Rapid Extreme Weight Cut practices and PED abuse in combat sports.

In today’s case (Forestieri v. Urban Recreation Ltd) the Plaintiff was injured in a rec league soccer game organized by the Defendants.  The Rules and Code of Conduct for the co-ed league made clear that there would be no contact or rough play of any sort.  Specifically slide tackles were banned.

The Plaintiff was injured by a slide tackle conducted by an unknown player, John Doe.   All that was known about John Doe is “that he was not registered as an FDU player in the League for the 2011 soccer season.

The Court found the Defendants liable for John Doe’s actions.  The court noted by letting an unregistered player participate and in not informing that participant of the specific rules of the league they were negligent.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Macintosh provided the following reasons:

[27]         In her examination for discovery before the summary trial, Ms. Hernandez acknowledged:

·       that her duty as the team captain was to ensure that communication from the League was passed on to the players and that the players were playing within the Rules;

·       that she never discussed with the FDU team what kinds of physical play were illegal in the League;

·       that having the FDU team members review the Rules and the Code of Conduct was important for helping to avoid injuries to other players in the League;

·       that it would be dangerous to allow players to participate in a game if they were unaware of the Rules and the Code of Conduct;

·       that a person who was not registered on the FDU team, and had not read the Rules and the Code of Conduct, should not have been playing in the League; and

·       that if an unregistered player was playing, she did not believe such a player had read the Code of Conduct.

[28]         In 2011, Ms. Hernandez could have had Zeyna Berdan ensure that the players knew the Rules.  However, she did not delegate that task to Ms. Berdan.  There is no evidence that either of the two ever turned their mind to having Ms. Berdan ensure that the players were either registered or knew the Rules, or both…

[44]         What act or omission by Ms. Hernandez could cause her to breach her duty to Mr. Forestieri?  He complains that:

·       she and FDU failed to register John Doe, the player who injured Mr. Forestieri;

·       she and FDU failed to inform John Doe of the League’s Rules and Code of Conduct; and

·       she and FDU failed to enforce the Rules and Code of Conduct.

[45]         In my view, those complaints are merited.  Ms. Hernandez and FDU did not take reasonable steps to ensure that those playing for FDU knew the League Rules.  Ms. Hernandez could have seen to that directly or by seeing that Ms. Berdan acted on her behalf in performing that task.  Between them, they should have ensured that only registered players who knew the Rules were playing, or, at least, that all who played knew the Rules.

[46]         As it was, the omissions resulted in John Doe playing for FDU when he probably thought he could slide tackle.  Mr. Forestieri has proved, on the balance of probabilities, that Ms. Hernandez failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that John Doe knew the rule prohibiting slide tackles…

[55]         I have found that Ms. Hernandez and FDU owed a duty to Mr. Forestieri, which they breached.  The breaches by Ms. Hernandez and FDU resulted in John Doe playing on February 6, 2011, while probably not knowing of the prohibition against slide tackles.  On the balance of probabilities, those breaches resulted in John Doe slide tackling Mr. Forestieri and causing him the knee injury he suffered that day.

[56]         I therefore find that Ms. Hernandez and FDU are liable in negligence for the injury suffered by Mr. Forestieri.


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