Casual Legal: When hockey pucks strike...

Although the weather is still warm, fall (and hockey season) is just around the corner. Across the province, local ice rinks will soon re-open to skaters and hockey players.

So, it is worth considering under which circumstances a municipality could be legally responsible for a hockey puck strike at one of its ice rinks.

It is most likely a claim against a municipality for a puck strike injury would be brought under Alberta’s Occupiers’ Liability Act. Under that legislation, an occupier (a person with physical possession of premises) owes a duty of care to visitors on those premises. The duty is to take “reasonable care” to see that the visitor will be “reasonably safe” in using the premises for the purpose for which they are invited or permitted to be on the premises.

As occupiers of local ice rinks, municipal governments owe this duty of care to spectators and skaters.

Two cases from Ontario illustrate that municipalities may wish to install safety signage and take other reasonable precautions in their ice rinks to discharge their duty of care. Perfection is NOT required; courts will consider whether the municipality’s precautions were reasonable, and whether the injured party had voluntarily taken on a certain degree of added risk through their actions.

In the case of Moran v City of Sault Ste Marie et al, a girl was struck by a hockey puck during a “free skating” period on an outdoor rink. A schedule showing when hockey was permitted as well as a sign saying “no hockey during free skating” were posted at the rink. The girl knew another child was playing hockey when she decided to skate. She had been warned by her mother not to skate when others were playing hockey, but decided to take a chance. The Court concluded the schedule and sign was enough to discharge the City’s duty and the City could not be expected to provide the close supervision needed to fully prevent the risk of someone being struck by an errant puck.

In Markham (City) v AIG Insurance Company of Canada, a young boy watching his brother’s hockey game at the community centre was injured when a hockey puck struck him in the face. He sued the City of Markham on the basis it failed to put adequate safety measures in place, ensure the rink was clear of hazards, and place signs or warnings of danger in the rink. Although the Court in this case was dealing with a dispute over insurance for the claim and not a finding of liability against the municipality, the lawsuit again demonstrates that municipal governments may wish to consider whether adequate safeguards are in place to discharge their occupier’s duty of care to spectators and to skaters on the rink.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.