CFL concussion case fails for lack of jurisdiction.

On March 11, 2016, the Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by a former BC Lions football for concussion related injuries, on the basis of wording in the league and player’s collective bargaining agreement.

In Bruce v. Cohon, 2016 BCSC 491, the plaintiff, who played professional football with the CFL from 2001 – 2014, sued the league and its individual teams alleging that his career led to multiple concussions and sub-concussive injuries and he was negligently allowed to continue playing while displaying these symptoms. The defendants argued that the Court had no jurisdiction to resolve the dispute as the league’s collective bargaining agreement required the complained to be dealt with via private arbitration.

In deciding for the CFL, and dismissing the lawsuit, Chief Justice Hinkson gave the following reasons:

[86]        Ultimately, the 2014 Collective Agreement allows for effective redress for any workplace injuries that Mr. Bruce may have sustained and thus is consistent with the policies of the Workers Compensation Board.

[87]        It is clear that at the time that he filed his notice of civil claim in these proceedings, Mr. Bruce, as a former player, could have filed a grievance under the 2014 Collective Agreement for compensation arising from the injuries for which he seeks compensation and based upon the duties he asserts in these proceedings.

[88]        He is still arguably eligible to file a grievance, although he would apparently require a ruling from an arbitrator to do so, as grievances under the 2014 Collective Agreement must be initiated within one year from the latter of the date of occurrence or non-occurrence upon which the grievance is based, or within one year from the date upon which the facts of the matter became known or reasonably should have been known to him.

[89]        There are no monetary limits to the compensation that a player can seek pursuant to the 2014 Collective Agreement.

[90]        Even if Mr. Bruce is not now permitted an extension of time to file a grievance, I accept the view of Mr. Justice Oland in Gillian at para. 46 that:

[46]      As stated in St. Anne Nackawic at p. 729 and in Weber at para. 54 and para. 57, the courts possess limited residual jurisdiction in certain situations involving labour relations. In this situation, where the appellant could have sought effective remedies under the Collective Agreement, there is no need for the exercise of that residual jurisdiction.

[Emphasis added.]

[91]        As Mr. Justice Joyce stated in Moznik v. Richmond (City), 2006 BCSC 1848 at para. 81:

The question is not whether the plaintiff can obtain the precise remedy she seeks through the court; it is whether she can obtain effective redress of the alleged harm through the mandatory arbitration provisions of the collective agreement and the Code.

[92]        I therefore find that Mr. Bruce was entitled to seek compensation by way of grievance and arbitration under the 2014 Collective Agreement for the matters raised in his notice of civil claim in these proceedings and had he done so, could have obtained a meaningful remedy for those complaints.

[93]        I find that the disputes raised by Mr. Bruce arise from the 2014 Collective Agreement and can only be resolved through the grievance and arbitration process.

[94]        In the result, I find that this Court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain Mr. Bruce’s claim and order that his notice of civil claim be struck in its entirety.