A Quebec Superior Court decision on Tuesday that awarded $8 million to Andrew Zaccardo, who was left paralyzed by an illegal hockey hit, sends an important message that checking from behind is "completely unacceptable," says a lawyer for the 21-year-old man.
The decision by Justice Daniel Payette is believed to be the highest ever awarded in Canada in a case concerning hockey violence.
Zaccardo was a 16-year-old forward with the Midget AA Laval Patriotes when he was hit from behind along the boards by Royal de Montréal defenceman Ludovic Gauvreau-Beaupré just 39 seconds into a game on Oct. 3, 2010.
Zaccardo went into the boards head first, suffering a damaged spinal cord that left him with no use of his legs and only limited use of his hands and arms.
The 24-page judgment ruled that Gauvreau-Beaupré's hit on Zaccardo was not accidental and found him at fault.
He and the Chartris Insurance Company of Canada, which insures players in leagues associated with Hockey Canada and Hockey Quebec, are responsible for paying the award.
Hockey Quebec issued a short statement Wednesday afternoon.
"Following this judgment, Hockey Quebec understands that no participant is immune to the provisions of the law," the statement read.
The defence has a 30-day window from the judgment date to appeal the ruling.
Stuart Kugler, a member of Zaccardo's legal team, said the ruling reflects their argument that such hits are not part of the game.
"This type of hit from behind, when someone like Andrew is in a completely defenceless and vulnerable position, that is not an inherent risk of the sport," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
"That is not a risk that any player accepts when he steps on the ice, and that is what the judgment of Justice Payette explains," he said.
Ruling a powerful reminder
Kugler said he hopes the $8-million award will serve as a powerful reminder to all hockey players that hitting another player from behind into the boards carries serious consequences.
"It's completely unacceptable because it's so dangerous. It can cause exactly the kind of catastrophic injuries that Andrew suffered," he said.
Kugler said the amount awarded is not unusual in cases involving significant injuries.
"The amount represents the cost of care and assistance that he has required and will require for the rest of his life, the loss of income that Andrew will probably sustain and the loss of income that his mother has sustained and will continue to sustain while she cares for him," Kugler said.
Zaccardo's mother gave up her job to care for her son after he was injured.
A portion of the $8 million was awarded to her.
Gauvreau-Beaupré's lawyer, Patrick Henry, was not available for comment.