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B.C. woman can keep $1M award after she was hit by hockey puck

Sherry Matthews has won an appeal challenging the amount awarded in her personal-injury suit
The B.C. Court of Appeals has denied an appeal of the more than $1 million in damages a woman was awarded after being hit by a hockey puck at a Langford Arena.

A woman hit in the head with a hockey puck at Langford’s Eagle Ridge Hockey Arena in 2014 has successfully fought off an appeal of the roughly $1 million in damages she was awarded by a jury in 2023. The B.C. Court of Appeals released the decision on Thursday, June 6.

The decision, written by Justice Karen Horsman, tells how in May of 2014 during a roller hockey game at the Langford-owned arena, a hockey puck sailed through a break in safety netting and hit Sherry Matthews in the head just above her right eye.

Matthews brought the suit in 2016, naming the City of Langford, which operate the arena, as well as the player who hit the puck and the team he played for. She was awarded $804,000 for loss of past earnings, $11,000 for loss of future earnings, $60,000 for cost of future care, and $175,000 for damages that cannot be quantified, such as pain and suffering.

The parties being sued did admit liability for what the decision calls the "accident," but had appealed the amount awarded by the jury.

The unanimous decision by a panel of three judges declared the award for past earnings loss and general damages for pain and suffering to be supported by the evidence, and proportionate to Matthews's circumstances.

“We welcome the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision, and with it, the end of a long legal saga for Ms. Matthews," said Matthews's lawyer Keith Schille in a statement to Black Press Media. "The decision rightfully recognizes the hard work and careful determination of the jury, as well as the profound injuries and losses Ms. Matthews has faced over the past decade."

The City of Langford did not respond to a request for a comment.

The court found that if anything, the award was at the low end, and could have been as much as $2.8 million if the woman’s full lost earning capacity was taken into account.

At the time of the incident Matthews was 60 years old. She had not earned a large amount of money in the previous years, but her income had been increasing as she found success selling credit and debit card processing machines for Axxess Payments and then for another company called Payzium.

In 2014, four months prior to the accident, she earned $44,646 in gross commission while working for Axxess and Payzium. Not long before the accident, she was offered a “more lucrative contract” with Pivotal Payments, which would pay a higher commission.

In the ensuing days after the incident, she says she suffered from nausea, headaches, and light sensitivity. When she went to a hospital, she underwent a CT scan which indicated a fracture to her nose, however it was not clear in court if the fracture was because of the puck, or from a previous injury.

The court document noted that her income had declined in the years following the incident, and she attempted to supplement her income by working other part-time jobs.

In 2019, she stopped working for Pivotal altogether after deciding she could no longer perform the work competently.

At the jury trial in April of 2023, Matthews’s mother, her son, a friend and a former co-worker all confirmed that there was a marked difference in her condition before and after the accident.

They said since the accident, she was observed to be depressed, lacking in motivation, confused and forgetful. The witnesses also said she rarely left her house after the accident and had spent much of her time in bed.

A neurologist, Dr. Donald Cameron testified that she “fulfilled the criteria” for a concussion, and she had been left permanently partially disabled as a result of her symptoms. A psychiatrist and an occupational therapist agreed, with the therapist saying that Matthews did not retain the capacity to work as a salesperson after the incident.

The other side argued Matthews injuries weren't really as serious as she said they were. The hockey player whose pass caused the puck to strike Matthews, Gregory Smith, along with another spectator, said they saw her after the accident and did not observe her to be bleeding or unconscious.

Lawyers for Langford and the hockey player also noted that she had taken a variety of medications before the accident, including medications for pain, depression, migraines and anxiety.

But the jury had sided with Matthews, and Horsman noted in her decision that appeals courts are reluctant to alter the amount of money awarded by a jury unless it is “wholly disproportionate or shockingly unreasonable.”