By Barbara M. Callahan, Esq.
I play ice hockey for the Black Ice in the South Shore Women’s Hockey League, a league that has been around since 1974 and has 45 teams competing in four different divisions. There are numerous other organized leagues across New England for adult hockey players. Ice hockey is a great sport and thankfully, with advances in equipment and rink safety, it is a relatively safe sport that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Sometimes however, injuries do occur because of the inherent risk of injury in participatory sports like ice hockey. Not every injury is actionable in the Courts, however. That is because Massachusetts has adopted a heightened standard of care in such cases. Instead of simple negligence, which requires an injured player to show that someone did not act reasonably under the circumstances, participants who are injured at an sporting event (like an ice hockey game) must prove that the offending participant acted with reckless misconduct. Gauvin v. Clark, 404 Mass. 450 (1989). Reckless misconduct is a high, but not impossible, standard to meet, especially with the assistance of experienced tort attorneys.
If you are hurt, and depending on the situation, insurance coverage may be available. Some leagues, like mine, require players register as members of USA Hockey, the governing body of the sport of ice hockey in the United States. You might not know that USA Hockey membership includes automatic enrollment in its insurance program, which offers, among others, coverage for catastrophic injuries and excess medical coverage for registered members. Other leagues and hockey organizations may have insurance as well.
Sometimes you sign a waiver of liability form when you enroll in a tournament, league or even a power skating clinic (for example). You need to read this waiver carefully because by signing this waiver, you may forfeit the ability to make certain rights or claims should you get hurt. Waivers of liability are often, but not always, upheld by Massachusetts Courts, so its important to address it before it becomes a bar to your claim.