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Your whistle-stop guide to claims for sports injuries

View profile for Robert Dempsey
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To mark the last day of Sport Relief 2018, Rob Dempsey of Roythornes Personal Injury department carries out a whistle-stop tour of the relevant points surrounding personal injury claims in sport.

“But it’s a man’s game ref!”

The standard mantra of an average Sunday League hacker (which, of course, ignores the involvement of women in sport) is often heard to justify a late and dangerous tackle.

It does, however, raise a relevant point.  In all competitive sports there is an element of risk which the participant has consented to.  This is a standard defence, and it would rightly be unfair if every injury were to result in a personal injury claim.  A successful claim could be brought, however, if it were established the tackle was so reckless as to go above and beyond the accepted risk, or if the person carrying out the challenge ought reasonably to have known it carried a risk of causing serious injury.

“Who’s the ******* in the Black?”

There are also responsibilities on the referee to ensure the safety of competitors.  A referee is responsible for controlling the game as far as is reasonable to avoid injury. In a case where a rugby player was injured in a game when the scrum collapsed, the referee had repeatedly failed to enforce the rules to avoid this, and was found liable for the injuries.

Video evidence

We associate video evidence with rugby, and more recently football, to assist the referee. It can also be relevant in personal injury claims in amateur games. In a recent case handled by Roythornes, video evidence from a parent on the touchlines was used to help establish liability where there had been a dangerous tackle. Other evidence would include the referee’s report which, even at lower levels of sport, they are obliged to keep, and also witness evidence from spectators and fellow players.

Horses for courses

Equestrian sports carry with them inherent risks which again competitors consent to.

There are specific laws in place which apply if an injury is caused by animals. The injured party could bring a claim if it were established, in the circumstances, that the horse had a propensity to be aggressive, to the extent severe injury was foreseeable.

“I was only watching!”

Those less inclined to take part in sporting events but simply spectate are also owed a duty of care.

Last week Cardiff City’s Neil Warnock accused Derby County of “an absolute stitch-up” after Derby postponed a game at short notice.  Whilst Neil Warnock thought there may have been more underhand reasons for the postponement, the owners of venues have a  responsibility to do what is reasonable to make premises reasonably safe.  The heavy snowfall could have led to spectators being injured at, or on, the approach to the ground.

Competitors in sporting events can also owe a duty of care to spectators and so, for example, a motorcyclist who unreasonably leaves a course and injures a spectator, or the owner of a horse which is allowed to bolt due to lack of adequate control causing injury to spectators, could be found liable.

“They think it’s all over…”

In summary, no one would wish to remove all potential risks associated with competitive endeavours.  This is why so many people enjoy taking part in sport.  That said, it is only right and proper unnecessary injuries can be avoided where possible given the potential and far-reaching effects this could have, not only for promising young sports stars whose careers could be cut short, but also for amateur participants who may find themselves in unnecessary pain and in financial difficulties as a result of injury.