BOOK REVIEW: John Barnes, Sports and the Law in Canada, 3rd Edition (Butterworths: Toronto) 1996

Reviewed by Christopher Bruce

This article was originally published in the spring 1997 issue of the Expert Witness.

John Barnes, B.A., B.C.L. (Oxon.) barrister, is co-director of the Sports Law Project at the University of Western Ontario. He has drawn on 20 years of experience studying sports law on three continents to write an intensively-researched yet eminently readable account of the state of sports law in Canada.

The first nine chapters of the book deal primarily with issues of contract and labour law in major league sports. For the sports junkies among us, this makes fascinating bedtime reading. But it offers little to those whose primary vocational interest is personal injury litigation.

Where the book should justify its purchase price to civil litigators is in Chapter 10, “Sports Injuries: Criminal and Civil Liability.” The 50-page section on civil liability contains over 350 footnotes – many of which list numerous references to books, articles, and cases. Analyses are provided of: intentional torts; assumption of risk; liability of participants (player sues player and spectator sues player); liability of facility operators (occupier’s liability to both participants and spectators; and owner’s liability in negligence); liability of schools, coaches, officials, and parents; liability of such organisations as amateur associations and professional teams; and medical negligence.

In each case the coverage is thorough and informative. Particularly commendable, in my view, is the index which not only provides the usual headings, such as “contracts” and “negligence,” but also allows the reader to search by sport – golf, hockey, rugby, football, gymnastics, etc. – and by type of injury.

My only complaint is that there is no discussion of the issues involved in the calculation of damages in sporting cases. This is only a minor complaint because there is, in my experience, only a small number of situations in which sports injuries raise unique concerns. Nevertheless, some recognition of these situations would have been useful.

One such case occurs when the plaintiff is a minor who claims that the injury has prevented him/her from becoming a professional athlete. As those with only a passing interest in sports will know, it is rare for even the number one draft pick to have a successful career in the NHL. How then to deal with the sixteen year-old who is third in scoring on a low-ranked junior A or university hockey team? Or the twenty year-old who is ranked twentieth among NCAA golfers? This is an issue which the courts have not faced clearly.

This minor quibble aside, I recommend Barnes’ book highly to anyone who is called upon to litigate a sports-related personal injury action.


Christopher Bruce is the President of Economica and a Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary. He is also the author of Assessment of Personal Injury Damages (Butterworths, 2004).