Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

NHL Ref Hits Player Back With $10M Injury Lawsuit for On-Ice Cross Check

An NHL official who was working as a lineman during a regular season game between the Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators is suing a player after sustaining severe on-ice injuries during the game. The ref is seeking $250,000 in damages related to his injuries, plus another $10 million for loss of current and future income. The incident occurred over a year ago now, and was captured on camera.

The video does not paint a sympathetic picture for the player being sued. Dennis Wideman is seen on the video slowly skating up ice, then lifting up his stick and arms, and cross checking the lineman in the back. The ref fell down hard, face first. Wideman was initially suspended for 20 games, but after a review, the suspension was reduced to only 10 games after it was determined to not be an intentional assault by the league's examiner.

Legal Claims on Ice

Generally, when a person is injured as a result of negligence, or another intentional action, they will have a legal claim against the individual. When an injury occurs during a professional sports match, liability issues can get murky. Unless a line has been clearly crossed, frequently, there will be no available legal claim (apart from a workers' comp claim) for player-on-player injuries. However, referees are a little different, and it is unclear whether they have workers' comp protections. Additionally, nearly all sports have specific rules forbidding players from making contact with officials.

Since the hit, the NHL ref has not officiated a single game. According to reports, he suffered a concussion, injury to his back, neck, shoulder, and knee. Additionally, the injury to his neck required surgery to correct. These injuries are alleged to either be the result of negligence or an intentional act.

But I Had a Concussion ...

Immediately prior to the illegal block in the back on the ref, Wideman was stunned pretty hard by an opponent. It was revealed that the hit Wideman took actually resulted in a concussion of his own. The video clearly shows Wideman looks like he's seeing stars when he finally finds a seat on his team's bench. He apologized profusely for his actions about a week after the incident.

However, when it comes to civil liability, whether or not Wideman was aware of what he was doing really won't make much of a difference. Under extraordinarily limited circumstances, incapacity can defeat a negligence claim, such as when a person suffers an unexpected heart-attack without any warning while driving and injures another. The best Wideman can likely hope for would be to prove his action wasn't intentional.

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