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Personal Injury Lawsuits in Hockey

April 3, 2012 by The Sawaya Law Firm

Each spring, I spend my weekends in a Fighting Sioux hockey jersey anxiously and nervously watching my college team work their way down the stretch to the playoffs. Like many hockey fans I get invested in my team, from the rosters to the rivalries. Rivalries in hockey make those matchups especially exciting. Certainly there will be on-ice chatter. Sometimes that antagonistic chirping, hard checking, pushing and shoving escalates to a dangerous level.

Typically, injuries suffered during the course of a game are not subject to criminal or civil liability, which is something each player knows and accepts as part of being an athlete. However, in rare instances the way in which an injury is inflicted lends itself to liability on the part of the injurer.

Retaliation for “cheap shots” is a time-honored part of the hockey code. If you, as a hockey player, commit such an infraction it is not just possible, but probable, that you’re going to have to pay the piper next time the teams meet. When that day comes, you take the ice ready to drop the gloves.

Avalanche fans no doubt remember the 2004 hit on Steve Moore by Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi, who chased Moore around the ice provoking him to fight. When Moore failed to respond, Bertuzzi landed a hard punch to Moore’s head, knocking him unconscious as Bertuzzi subsequently shoved him head first onto the ice. The hit resulted in 3 fractured vertebrae, a concussion, and brain damage from a torn frontal lobe. The hit was score-settling retaliation for a hit Moore made days earlier on Bertuzzi’s Canucks teammate and captain, Markus Naslund, which led to a concussion and missed games due to injury (a hit, incidentally, that was deemed legal by NHL officials). However, Moore had already “taken his medicine” by dropping gloves in an earlier period against Canuck Matt Cooke. Bertuzzi’s attack from behind has been considered “the most vicious attack in the history of team sports.” (ESPN)

Todd Bertuzzi was charged criminally in Vancouver which ended with a guilty plea. In addition, Steve Moore filed a civil lawsuit in 2005 against Bertuzzi, alleging $38 – $40 million in lost wages. The lawsuit has had many twists and turns over the course of time, but is expected to go to trial in the fall of 2012.

Recently, the New Orleans Saints has undergone issues with “intent to injure” bounty schemes. It remains to be seen whether any litigation will come of that situation; however, if there is anything to be learned from the Bertuzzi/Moore lawsuit, it is that premeditated, intentional acts meant to cause injury may fall outside of “the code” in sports and land the injurer with more than just penalty minutes and game suspensions.

The Sawaya Law Firm is Denver’s personal injury law firm. With over 40 years of experience and a compassionate team prepared to listen to your story, The Sawaya Law Firm is here to help. Contact us anytime.

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