The Supreme Court for British Columbia has held that a school district is liable for negligence in a case in which a 13-year-old boy was injured while playing field hockey.
Central to the ruling was the fact that Devon Hussack was playing field hockey for the first time when he was struck by a classmate, who inadvertently swung her stick for a shot.
Hussack was 13 when a physical-education teacher at Vedder Middle School encouraged him to join a field hockey game. Halfway through the class, he was struck by a student swinging her stick for a shot on goal and knocked to the ground.
After the incident, Hussack began suffering headaches, dizziness, tremors and twitches. His health continued to worsen, leaving him, at present, housebound. During the trial, the school district argued that the boy’s dysfunction — somatoform illness — was attributable to an overbearing, controlling father.
The court acknowledged the role the father’s obsessive behavior may have played. But Justice Mary-Ellen Boyd of the B.C. Supreme Court also found that the teacher’s negligence was the proximate cause of Hussack’s condition.
“The father would not allow Devon any independence so as to grow and learn from his own mistakes. He was always around the school, hovering, watching out for Devon and fighting his battles — whether with the teachers or fellow students. Devon was not allowed to take responsibility for his own actions,” the court held.
The court added that the boy’s teacher hoped participation in field hockey would stimulate the boy, encouraging him to participate in school and the various activities.
It suggested that while this may have been well intended, that decision was based on the erroneous assumption that the boy could safely participate in the game despite missing previous classes about field hockey. This constituted a breach of the teacher’s duty of care.
“While the family pathology, particularly Hussack Sr.’s overprotective and obsessive actions, played a large role here, this does not negate the causative role of the initial head injury,” the court held.
It added that the boy’s condition has continued to worsen.
“His day follows no set routine or sleeping schedule. When he awakens, he spends some time at the computer in the games room checking world news, playing some videos and watching TV,” according to the court. “He eventually asks his father to prepare breakfast and later he showers with his father’s help. He says that he spends his day switching between television, videos and the Internet, trying to keep his mind off his predicament and to ‘kill the boredom.’”