The recent Superior Court of Justice decision of Levita v Crew, 2015 ONSC 5316 (S.C.J.) shows the value of a clearly-worded, comprehensive waiver in assisting the host and participants of an inherently risky activity to avoid liability.
The plaintiff, Mr. Levita, and the defendant, Mr. Crew, were both players in a hockey league operated by the defendant, True North Hockey Canada. The league operated with a multi-tiered penalty system which penalized intentional contact and included sanctions up to and including ejection from the league. Prior to the start of each season the league distributed a waiver which outlined the risks inherent in ice hockey, the potential consequences of these risks, and an acknowledgement that by signing this waiver a player was accepting these risks by stepping onto the ice and playing. This waiver was distributed in each team’s locker room before the first game of the season: no player was permitted on the ice until he had signed.
The plaintiff alleged Mr. Crew deliberately attempted to injure him after he had passed the puck. Mr. Crew's version was of an accidental shove while trying to take the puck. Mr. Levita broke his tibia and fibula to the extent that it required multiple surgeries to repair.
The court held that the conflicting stories of the incident made it impossible to determine whether Mr. Crew deliberately or recklessly injured Mr. Levita, noting that testimony had indicated that ice conditions were such that even minor, non-penalty worthy contact could lead to this outcome. Mr. Crew was found not liable to the plaintiff.
The court also dismissed the action against the league. Firestone J. held the waiver was clear and unambiguous as to the risks and dangers that a player was accepting by signing it and agreeing to play. The court did not give credence to the plaintiff’s claim to have not understood the waiver prior to signing it, noting that the plaintiff was a lawyer by trade who understood the “legal significance of signing a waiver document”. The court found that even if the league had been negligent in its duty to the plaintiff to provide a safe league in which to play hockey, the waiver provided it a complete defence to the claims against it.