Canada: Court Rules that Phys-Ed Teacher was Negligent in Coaching Field Hockey


On June 26, 2009, the Supreme Court of British Columbia held that the Chilliwack School District (school district) was liable for the injuries sustained by a Grade 7 student playing field hockey in Physical Education (PE) class. The court found that the physical education teacher fell below the standard of care as the student lacked both the experience and the proper instruction to play this particular sport.

The student sued the school district for negligently failing to progressively teach and coach him in the necessary skills to play field hockey. In doing so, the student argued that the school exposed him to being struck in the face by another student's stick during the course of a game.

The school district argued that it had met the necessary standard of care in instructing and supervising the student in PE class. In addition, the school district argued that even if the teacher did fall below the standard of care, the student's level of dysfunction and somatoform illness were not caused by the accident but were a combination of pre-existing conditions.

The Accident

Devon Hussack, a student in his Grade 7 school year, had a history of chronic absenteeism. He had missed over one-third of the school year at the time of the accident. In particular, the student had missed the entire three-week long field hockey unit when he was allowed to play in the "Round Robin" game on the last day of the unit. The unit was designed to take three-weeks of the school term comprised of six to seven classes. The classes were sixty-eight minutes in length and included approximately forty minutes of practicing the skills.

On April 17, 1998, the PE teacher encouraged Devon to join the class. The teacher thought this would be a good opportunity for the student to participate in the PE class and would help the student obtain a passing grade for the school year. A pass in PE was a mandatory requirement for the student to be promoted to the next grade level.

Prior to the accident, the student had no field hockey experience. The student did, however, have a background in ice and floor hockey. At trial, two competing field hockey experts put forward evidence as to whether having a background in other types of hockey sports would be an advantage or disadvantage in being able to have a basic set of skills to play field hockey. The court found that the student did not have the basic requisite skills to play field hockey.

The PE teacher divided the students into four relatively equal teams. Prior to the class, the teacher reminded the students about the four basic rules of the game: (1) not using the back of the stick; (2) not using their feet; (3) not lifting the sticks above their knees; and (4) not checking from behind. When the games commenced, the teacher assumed a position in the middle of the field to supervise the two games. At the midpoint of the class, one student had a break-a-way towards the goal. Devon chased her down and attempted to check her from behind. The student swung her stick and struck Devon in the nose. He was taken to the hospital emergency room.

A few weeks after the injury, Devon complained of weakness, tiredness, altered concentration, sleep disruption and mild photophobia. However, the injury did not result in a brain injury. As the weeks went on, Devon complained of new and worsening symptoms. On his father's insistence, Devon did not undertake any counselling, psychiatric or psychological treatment despite his doctor's recommendations.

Justice Boyd went to considerable length in discussing the dynamic between Devon and his father. The court heard evidence that Devon's father was "over-gratifying, over-protective and over-lenient" with his son. Since Devon started school in kindergarten, all of Devon's teachers complained about Mr. Hussack's overbearing and controlling style of parenting.

Liability and the Standard of Care

In this case, the court ruled that the standard of care to be exercised by school authorities is that of a "careful or prudent teacher." The test contains four main factors to consider:

  1. Whether the activity was suitable to the age and mental and physical condition of the student;
  2. Whether the student was progressively trained and coached to do the activity properly and to avoid the danger;
  3. Whether the equipment was adequately and suitably arranged; and
  4. Whether the performance, having regard to its inherently dangerous nature, was properly supervised.

In applying this test, Canadian courts have noted that the standard of care is case specific and cannot be:

....applied in the same manner and to the same extent in every case. Its application will vary from case to case and will depend upon the number of students being supervised at any given time, the nature of the exercise or activity in progress, the age and the degree of skill and training which the student may have received in connection with such activity, the nature and condition of the equipment in use at the time, the competency and capacity of the students involved, and a host of other matters which may be widely varied but which, in a given case, may affect the application of the prudent parent-standard to the conduct of the school authority in the circumstances.

Essentially, the simple question to be answered in this case was whether it was reasonable for the PE teacher to allow Devon to participate in the field hockey class knowing he had no exposure to the sport despite having considerable hockey experience. The court answered this question by finding that the actions of the PE teacher were unreasonable in that the PE teacher failed to "progressively train and coach" the student in field hockey. The school district was held liable. The court ruled that Devon lacked the necessary "skills building blocks" that were put in place during his absences from all the previous classes. Thus, the PE teacher breached his duty of care to Devon. The court rejected the assumptions made by the teacher. The PE teacher testified that he was not concerned with Devon participating on the final day of the field hockey unit after having been absent for the previous three weeks. He stressed that almost all the students were beginners at field hockey. In his view, there was no need for any special skills to be progressively taught that Devon needed to participate safely in the game that day.

It is important to note the father's role in the court's foreseeability analysis. Not only were the injuries sustained by Devon foreseeable, but also the father's excessive reaction was foreseeable as the PE teacher had previous knowledge of the father's "smothering" of his child. The over-reaction to Devon's injuries was not unforeseeable, as the school had witnessed this type of behaviour from the father for many years. The court found that the dysfunctional family dynamic made Devon more vulnerable to psychological damage resulting from the physical injury sustained in the field hockey game. However, this did not negate or minimize the school's liability.

Devon was awarded $1,365,000 in damages. This included $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages, $200,000 for past loss of income, $1,000,000 for future loss of income earning capacity and $40,000 in future care costs.

Lessons Learned

This decision demonstrates the significance of safety when students are engaging in physical activity. To meet the requisite standard of care, a teacher must be able to prove that the students were trained and coached in a progressive way that ensures they have the "building block skills" to participate in the activity. In the event these building block skills are lacking, the teacher should not allow the student to participate. This decision shows that even when the student is at risk of failing the class that will result in not being promoted to the next grade, safety is the paramount consideration when it comes to participation in PE class. The decision is also noteworthy for the court's focus on the family dynamic between Devon and his father. School districts must be aware that an over-reaction by a parent to an injury to their child may be a factor in the liability analysis. Even in extreme cases where the overreaction by a parent exacerbates a sustained injury and even causes further injury to the child, the court may still hold the school liable.

About BLG

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions