MN Supreme Court Rules on Hockey, “..the fastest game played in this country and Canada.”

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This week marks registration for youth hockey here in Superior, Wisconsin.  I have two sons playing this year, and that means I will be attending more than just a few practices and games.  In honor of the start of hockey season, I decided to find some court opinions dealing with “hockey.”  The first one I found is the only one that I need to share.  It is a 1947 opinion from the Supreme Court of Minnesota.  Keep in mind, I am not a licensed Minnesota attorney and this article gives absolutely no legal advice.

Modec v. City of Eveleth, 29 N.W.2d 453, 224 Minn. 556 (Minn. 1947) was decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court on October 31, 1947.  The case was brought in St. Louis County by Ms. Modec, who was a spectator hit by a puck at the Eveleth Hippodrome.  A verdict was entered in favor of Ms. Modec awarding $2,000.  The city (who leased the Hippodrome to The Eveleth Hockey Association) appealed arguing that she assumed the risk of being hit by a puck; the trial judge agreed and overturned the verdict.  I still can’t figure out how she won $2,000 in the first place. In St. Louis County MN? For getting hit by a puck?

Ms. Modec appealed to the MN Supreme Court.  The core issue of the case was whether Ms. Modec appreciated and assumed the risk of being hit by a stray puck while watching a hockey game.  The opinion also discussed whether the multitude of prior cases involving baseball spectators hit by fly balls could or should be applied to hockey spectators.

As a hockey mom, I found myself ignoring the legalese of the court’s opinion.  I was far too enchanted with the way the Minnesota Supreme Court described the game of hockey and want to share it with you.

“Hockey is played on the ice by two opposing teams of six persons each. The playing space, which is oblong in shape, is usually limited by marks on the ice or by barriers, such as the wooden walls in this case. At each end of the playing area, a short distance removed from the barrier, there are goals. These are fashioned of netting over a frame in the shape of a leanto, with the open side away from the barrier. The players use skates and are equipped with long-handled sticks or clubs. The striking end of the hockey stick forms about a 110-degree angle with the handle, is about 16 inches long, three to four inches high, a fraction of an inch wide at the top, and slightly wider at the bottom. The puck is the bone of contention in the game.

The object of the game is to place the puck in the goal of the opposing team either by pushing it or by striking it with such force from the playing area as to cause it to fly past the opposing player guarding the goal. Bodily contact is not barred, but is an accepted way for a player to stop his opponent. Thus, the ability to give and take is essential to a successful hockey player. Speed is also an important phase of the game. Sports authorities generally consider it to be the fastest game played in this country and Canada. Thus, the ability of these expert skaters to execute at high speed the difficult plays of the game and the strength required to withstand the crushing contacts inflicted by player upon player in an effort to get possession of the zealously guarded puck show that hockey is a game where speed, skill, and physical endurance are of the utmost importance. It is a man’s game. When the puck is passed from player to player across the playing area, it often rises from the ice. Since the puck is round with a flat bottom and top, it is not always possible for a particular player to determine the direction the puck will take when in flight, nor how high it will rise. Any person of ordinary intelligence cannot watch a game of hockey for any length of time without realizing the risks involved to players and spectators alike.”

Ultimately, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied Ms. Modec’s appeal.  The case is still “good” law and has been used by the Philadelphia Flyers (Pestalozzi v. Philadelphia Flyers Ltd., 576 A.2d 72, 394 Pa.Super. 420 (Pa. Super., 1990)), the Cleveland Hockey Club (Morris v. Cleveland Hockey Club, 157 Ohio St. 225, 105 N.E.2d 419 (Ohio, 1952)), and has been cited by courts in Colorado, South Carolina, and New Mexico addressing cases involving golf, snowmobiling, roller hockey, and more.

As I write the final check for hockey registration this week, and start adding practice times to my calendar, it’s nice to know that the legal system has long and consistently recognized hockey as “..the fastest game played in this country and Canada…a game where speed, skill and physical endurance are of the utmost importance.”

 

Johanna R. Kirk – Kirk Law Office, LLC