Sports Injuries: Who Is Responsible?


Certain sports, such as hockey, in-line skating, free-style skiing, and wrestling almost always involve some risks. People who take part in them accept this. But some accidents can lead to a person’s civil responsibility.  

What is “risk acceptance”? 

As a player, you accept the risks associated with the activities you take part in. If you play hockey, ski, or in-line skate, then your risk of injury and accident is higher than for people who play bridge or practise yoga.

Under the theory of risk acceptance, you agree to face the usual, ordinary, and normally foreseeable dangers associated with an activity. This means you are responsible for your choices, and you can’t blame or sue someone if one of the usual and foreseeable risks actually happens.

For example, if you take a bad fall while downhill skiing and break an arm or a leg, you won’t have much luck suing the ski hill operators unless they were at fault somehow.

The courts have often discussed risk acceptance in civil responsibility cases. In some cases, they have held that the victim had no case, and in others they reduced the compensation the victim was claiming.

Caution! The defence of risk acceptance doesn’t work in all cases. It only applies if the victim was aware of the risk, gave her full consent, and that this particular risk was the one that occurred. The facts of each case must be carefully considered.

Also, risk acceptance concerns only the normal risks associated with a sport and not the faults of other people.  

Risks associated with an activity or sport” 

Risks associated with an activity or sport are the normal or foreseeable risks. Here are some examples:  

  • In sports such as golf or baseball, it is foreseeable that the ball will injure someone if it does not go in the direction the golfer or batter planned. The risk is evaluated based on the player’s skill level, the precautions taken, and his reaction.
  • In contact sports, such as hockey or football, collisions between two players are a normal part of the game. 

However, normal risks do not include accidents caused by an intentional hit, being too rough, or because the rules or safety instructions were not followed. A player who does not follow the rules can be held responsible for injuring another person. For more information about the general rules of civil responsibility, see our article Civil Responsibility.

Mechanical equipment that participants use, such as chair lifts, are included in the accepted risks. However, if the equipment is in poor condition or the people supervising it are negligent, the owner or operator of the centre can be held responsible.

The same is true for the quality of the facilities. If there is a gaping hole on a ski trail and no warning is provided, the ski centre can be held responsible if you are injured and you sue. 

Beginners and experts: Different risks for different folks  

The courts look at the specific facts of each case. In determining the type of risk the person accepted when participating in a sport or activity, the courts consider the victim’s:

  • age,
  • experience,
  • skill level, and  
  • knowledge of the location. 

These factors help separate people who are unaware of the risk from people who act recklessly. An expert skier who acted recklessly will have a hard time justifying his actions. A person with a lot of experience should foresee dangers that a beginner doesn’t.  

Caution! Inexperience can’t be used as an excuse for everything. Beginners must pay attention to the warnings and advice of more experienced people taking part in the activity. If the beginner isn’t accompanied by anyone during the activity, he still has an obligation to get information from more experienced people. 

Acceptance of risks by spectators 

As a spectator, you accept the risks involved in the sport you are watching. If you are at a softball game, you should know that foul balls sometimes land in the stands. This means you have an obligation to be careful and pay attention to the game.

You must also respect the safety rules that organizers have put into place. For example, if you are watching an ATV race, you only have yourself to blame if you are injured in an accident while standing on the wrong side of the safety fence.

When a player is at fault  

Sometimes it is hard to tell whether a player is at fault, especially when the game is so fast and contact is allowed.

However, players are responsible for injury to other participants in these cases:  

  • The player did not follow the rules of the game and injured another player.  
  • The player was too rough given the situation. 
  • The player hit another player maliciously. 

In other words, players must be careful and follow the rules and safety requirements of their sport.

 The responsibility of sports facility owners  

Sports facility owners and operators have an obligation to act responsibly to ensure the safety of the people who use their facilities. This means the owners and operators must take any steps needed to prevent foreseeable and avoidable danger:

  • The facility must meet the safety requirements that apply to it. (For example, the facility is not allowed to cut costs by installing stands that don’t meet safety requirements.)  
  • The facility must be kept free of obstacles. (For example, if a piece of steel is left lying in the middle of a ski trail, there should be danger signs bringing the skiers’ attention to it.)