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Court rules hockey player not liable for other player's injury

Back in 2013, two high school hockey teams, one from Pennsylvania and the other from Massachusetts, met for a match in Marlboro. One of the Pennsylvania teens seriously hurt the wrist of one of the other team's players with the blade on his skate during the game when he checked the other teen's play. The Massachusetts teen suffered a permanent injury and sued.

The suit was ultimately dismissed, and the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the ruling in a decision that essentially said:

  • Even though the Pennsylvania player was playing quite hard, that type of aggression was normal for the game of hockey at the level they were playing.
  • That type of accident and injury suffered by the plaintiff can sometimes happen in a hockey game.
  • There was no indication that the Pennsylvania teen was purposefully trying to injure the other player, and he had no history of violence toward other players.
  • When you choose to play a game that's as rough as hockey, you accept a certain amount of danger comes with it.

What gives?

This is called the assumption of risk defense. When the victim of an injury voluntarily engaged in the risky behavior that led to the accident, there's no basis for a claim unless the defendant acted with "reckless misconduct."

"Assumption of risk" is often the defense that coaches, school teams and dojo leaders resort to when an accident leaves them liable -- and they may waive the release of liability form you signed before starting at you as if it will ward off all legal claims. It's important to understand, however, that there are limits on this type of defense -- which means that you should always discuss a potential claim with an attorney to be certain of your rights.

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