Court of Appeal limits rugby club’s liability to injured player

November 2011

Live events industry

In a case which is of particular interest to the sporting sector, the Court of Appeal has ruled that an award by the County Court of £54,000 to a young rugby player who was injured playing for an under-17s team after he fractured his right kneecap was wrong and must be re-paid along with court costs.  The case follows on from the decisions in Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council [2003] UKHL 47  and Lewis v Six Continents  [2005] EWCA Civ. 1805  which both go some way in limiting liability in the face of the ever increasing number of personal injury claims and protecting potentially risky but “useful” activities such as playing sport.

Jack Sutton, 20, was 16 and playing at Syston Rugby Club in Leicestershire when he was injured by the “sharp stub” of a broken plastic cricket boundary marker. He sued the club claiming there had not been an adequate pitch inspection

Overturning the payout, Lord Justice Longmore said: “It is important that neither the game’s professional organisation, nor the law, should lay down standards that are too difficult for ordinary coaches and match organisers to meet adding “Games of rugby are, after all, no more than games and, as such are obviously desirable.” The judge, who sat with Lord Justice Rimer and Mr Justice Warren, said if a pitch was inspected by a coach who walked at a “reasonable” pace, a club’s “common law duty of care” would be satisfied. He said a “reasonable ‘walk over the pitch’ inspection” would have been “unlikely to reveal” the marker stub, which was “below the level” of lush grass.
Lawyers for the club said it would have taken a fingertip search of the pitch by several people to uncover the debris and the said that a legal requirement for sports clubs of any level to carry out such a pre-match routine “went too far and exceeded what was acceptable”.

The case may become an important principle when looking at risk assessment and related areas of liability in the live events sector.

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