Soccer is Freddy Fifa’s favorite sport. Fifa just returned from South Africa after watching the United States’ disappointing round of 16 losses in the World Cup. As a souvenir of his experience, Fifa brought home a vuvuzela* and vows to be the first fan to introduce it to his second favorite sport – hockey. True to his word, Fifa brings his vuvuzela to the first game of the season and blows and blows and blows. After suffering a hard check into the boards and driven into a fit of rage as a result of the horn’s incessant droning, Ricky Rumble (who has a short-temper even for a hockey player) picks a fight with an opposing player, Sam Boney. The fight does not last long as Rumble skillfully lands a punch that breaks Boney’s nose. Does Boney have a claim against Rumble for the injuries sustained as a result of the fight?
Probably not. An opposing player’s conduct that would be clearly actionable outside the stadium is perfectly legal inside the stadium if the act is considered “part of the game.” If an act is considered part of the game (e.g. a tackle in football, a collision at home plate, or a foul in basketball), then players have assumed the risk of injury. This, of course, begs the question is fighting part of the game in hockey? Yes. Although fighting is considered illegal in hockey (it will get you a five minute major penalty), it happens all the time. In fact, fighting happens so often that the NHL has rules about how to fight (e.g. players must drop their sticks and gloves) and many teams maintain an “enforcer” on their roster to fight and protect the team’s star players. With over 700 fights during the 2008-2009 NHL season, one would be hard pressed to say that fighting is not part of the game. As Rumble’s actions do not appear to be blatantly outside the boundaries of hockey, Boney assumed the risk of injury.
However, when conduct goes so far beyond that which is normally tolerated, civil and criminal liability may follow. In 2004, Vancouver Canuck, Todd Bertuzzi, plead guilty to an assault charge after blindsiding Colorado Avalanche rookie Steve Moore with a punch to the back of the head which left Moore unconscious, with a concussion and three broken vertebrae. Moore subsequently brought a lawsuit against Bertuzzi alleging $38 million in damages as a result of the attack which ended his NHL career. Six years later, the case is still pending.
*BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ (deep breath) BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. If you have watched even a second of the World Cup, you now know that a vuvuzela is a cheap, plastic trumpet that emits a buzzing noise so annoying it could drive a bumble bee crazy. The sound has quickly found its way into our pop culture and even YouTube has added a button so that users can listen to the horrendous sound while watching their favorite online videos.