10 July 2018

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Ontario court rules a soccer team and coach not negligent for assault during a game.

Sports-related liability came under the spotlight at the Ontario Court of Appeal, with a ruling which should be ‘comforting’ for officials and coaches of amateur sports teams. The court upheld a ruling that found a soccer team and its officials were not negligent after a soccer player was punched at a game in 2010.

Launched proceedings

After being punched and injured at a game between the North Mississauga Soccer Club and Sparta, Michael Da Silva and his family launched a civil action seeking damages from the Hamilton Sparta Sports Club, the Ontario Soccer Association and three team officials. In its ruling, the Court of Appeal said that a 2017 ruling by the Superior Court of Justice dismissing the action was correct, after a summary judgment motion by the defendants. ‘The appellants’ case foundered on the absence of evidence,’ said the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling by justices Gloria Epstein, Peter Lauwers and Katherine van Rensburg. The court ruled that Mr Da Silvas’ case relied ‘on proving the claim that Mr Gomes’ previous conduct showed a risk that he would commit violence against an opposing player,’ and therefore ‘his coach, his team and the association were negligent in permitting him to play.’

Surprise punch

The plaintiffs had argued that the soccer defendants should have been more careful in allowing the other player involved, Brandon Gomes, to play, given two prior incidents involving the then-teenager, and that the head coach of the Sparta should have reviewed a code of conduct more carefully with players. Justice Lucille Shaw found that Mr Gomes’ ‘evidence was that he knew he was not to punch other players’ and that he made the decision to punch Da Silva ‘impulsively’ and ‘based on the factual record before this court, I find that Gomes’ action was a sudden and unexpected event that could not have been anticipated by the defendants. As it was unexpected and sudden there was nothing that a reasonable coach could have done to prevent Gomes’ assault of Da Silva.’