Case Comment – Hussack v. School District No. 33 (Chilliwack), (2009)

Devon Hussack was a Grade 7 student when he was injured by a field hockey stick in a physical education class. Devon had not attended school for the first few weeks of the field hockey unit. He had a chronic history of school absences. The principal met with Devon’s father, Mr. Hussack, and the physical education teacher. The teacher recommended that Devon attend the field hockey class so that he could start to re-integrate himself into the school.

Devon had a background in ice hockey and the teacher felt for this reason that Devon could participate in the field hockey scrimmage games with the other students. As part of the introduction to the day’s games, the teacher reminded the students not to ‘stick check’ from behind. That is, when one player winds up taking a shot, a player on defence should not come up behind that player – otherwise there is a risk of being smacked in the face by their stick.

During the game, Devon approached another player who was taking a shot and was smacked in the face by their stick.  The injury led to “somatoform” disorder (a mental disorder evidenced by physical problems) – which also led to Devon becoming somewhat of a recluse.

Although Mr. Hussack refused any psychological treatment for Devon’s disorder, and actively coached Devon to remember symptoms when he met with many different doctors, the court decided that but for the field hockey injury, Devon’s disorder would not have occurred.

The court decided that, despite Devon’s knowledge of ice hockey, he was inadequately prepared for field hockey and was not properly instructed in the sport’s safety requirements.  Devon had not participated in progressive instruction for the sport and therefore should not have participated in the scrimmage game.

The main lesson that we can take away from this case is that coaches and instructors must prepare athletes through progressive instruction. This has been affirmed in a long series of legal cases in Canada. This case is also interesting in that its outcome turned on the analysis of “proximate cause” and the application of the “but for” test. Despite the pervasive feeling that Devon was “coddled” by his father, and that Devon made little attempt to recover from his own injury, the court still focused on the proximate cause of the situation. The court found that the lack of instruction led to the injury, which in turn led to the disorder.

Case Comment – Hussack v. School District No. 33 (Chilliwack), 2009 BCSC 852

Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Newsletter (2009) Vol. 5(3)

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