Mason Raymond, Todd Bertuzzi – a tale of two Canucks

There’s no joy on Granville…

I received a call from Mike Bothwell of CKNW this morning. Mike was curious as to the legal implications of the game 6 hit by Boston’s Boychuck against Mason Raymond – in short he wanted to know if Mason could possibly sue Boychuck.   An interesting question – the short,easy answer is yes he could sue but the long, more  difficult answer is whether or not the suit would be successful.

As Canucks fans are aware, game 6 had barely started when Boychuck checked Raymond into the boards.  Raymond, bent over in an awkward position,  was pushed tail first into the boards. At first the play seemed somewhat innocuous, until Raymond had to be helped off the ice in obvious distress with what proved to be a crushed vertebrae. The fact that Boychuk didn’t receive a penalty on the play nor a suspension by the league is a hard pill for Canucks’ fans to swallow given Rome’s prior  treatment.  Those decisions are for the refs and the NHL administration to ponder.

The line between what is acceptable and what is not is a fuzzy one.

From a legal standpoint, athletes voluntarily assume risk of injury when they choose to participate in a sport.  The level of risk accepted of course depends upon each sport.  The more physical the sport, the higher the level of risk that is accepted.  We all know that injuries occur in sports, and especially in contact sports. Courts will draw a line however when the action that caused the injury goes beyond the accepted level of risk. The line between what is acceptable and what is not is a fuzzy one.  A hockey player who is injured by a clean check will have little recourse against his opponent.  If the check is “dirty”  – then the issue gets more complicated.  Conduct that infringes the rules of  sport occurs all the time.  Whether the conduct is “actionable at law” will depend upon each incident’s specific facts and how far such conduct goes beyond the acceptable.  So a hockey player who is injured in a fight may have no legal recourse against his opponent as fighting in hockey is currently an acceptable hazard, even though it violates the “rules” of the game.  A badminton player, however, who instigates a fight may find himself on the wrong end of a successful law suit, because as far as I know, fighting is not an accepted part of badminton…yet.

Of course there are incidents in hockey which go beyond the pale and are actionable. In those cases the courts look at the maliciousness of the act. Acts which are deliberate attempts to injure and which stray from acceptable conduct in the game will be the subject of a successful law suit.    So a player who delivers an unprovoked two handed blow with his stick to the face of an unsuspecting opponent may be successfully sued as well as criminally charged.

Mike asked me to compare the  Raymond incident with the infamous Todd Bertuzzi – Steve Moore incident.  While the Raymond incident occurred in the run of play, the Bertuzzi incident did not.  Bertuzzi sucker punched, an unprepared Moore from behind, then came down on him with his full  weight. The consequences were tragic for both Moore and, I’m sure, for Bertuzzi. The criminal case has ended but the civil suit filed by Moore against Bertuzzi and the other defendants has yet to come to trial.  If the case does come to trial, it will be interesting to see the court’s ruling on  whether or not Bertuzzi’s conduct exceeded the bounds of acceptable risk.  Unlike the NHL, in theory, the court is not supposed to consider the severity of the injury when making the initial determination of whether or not the action falls within acceptable risks.  In reality the courts, like the NHL, are often influenced by this.  An aggrieved player who is sucker punched from behind but who receives only  a minor injury might find that his law suit meets with little success, while a player who sustains a career ending fractured neck may experience a different result.

I’m writing this blog on the morning after game 7.  “There is no joy on Granville…” the Canucks treated their fans to a great season and play off run- it’s unfortunate that they came up a bit short. Hats off to the Bruins they were definitely the better team in the series. As disappointing as the loss is, it is no excuse for the behaviour of the social media celebrity seeking cement heads who have tarnished what was a great experience.  It upsets me when the media refers to these people as “fans”. They are not fans in any sense of the word – in fact I expected that there would be vandalism whether the Canucks won or lost last night.  For me, I will choose to remember the great atmosphere and positive community spirit generated by the Canucks – it truly was an exciting time.

Go Canucks Go!

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