Contact sport collisions: Can I make a claim?

Posted by Martin Usher on

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I was interested to read recently that boys playing Rugby have a one in six chance of sustaining serious injury every season.

There are calls on the basis of such statistics for compulsory Rugby to be removed from schools or for some elements of the sport, such as scrums and tackles, to be removed from the sport at school level. It is however important to take any statistics in context and it is unclear, for example, whether a sport such as Football has a vastly different rate of serious injuries. Notably it is the view of the Rugby Football Union that whilst there is a risk of injury in playing Rugby this is not disproportionate when compared to other sports.

Given that there is an inherent risk of injury in contact sports by their very nature, in what circumstances can someone bring a claim for having sustained an injury whilst taking part in one?

The starting point is that one sports player does owe a duty of care to another. The law will not however compensate people who are injured during the normal course of a contact sport. For example, an injury sustained as a result of an accidental collision between 2 players would not succeed and a tackle that has simply been mistimed in sports such as Football or Rugby will not normally of itself constitute negligence. A tackle would have to be reckless or malicious. This was the case in Collett v (1) Smith (2) Middlesbrough Football and Athletics Company (1986) Ltd [2008] where the claimant, a 16 year Manchester United footballer, was injured in a tackle that was ‘high’ and ‘over the ball’. Interestingly this case resulted in the record payout for a professional sportsmen in a personal injury claim of £4.5million.

This is however not the only circumstance in which a personal injury claim could be successfully pursued. Claims have also been successfully pursued in circumstances where the sporting activity has not been organised or run properly. For example and there are numerous cases of people having been injured as a result of defects on sports pitches or defaults with the equipment that was being used.

The officials, such as the referees, also owe a duty of care to the players participating in a sport to take reasonable care for the player’s safety in the way that they carry out their duties. Coming back to where I started by discussing injuries sustained whilst playing Rugby, there here have been numerous cases in relation to the officiating of Rugby matches. The most famous of these cases are Smolden v Whitworth [1997] and Vowles v Evans [2003], both of which related to the way that the referees had dealt with scrums during the matches and both of which resulted in findings of negligence against the referees.

In summary it is clear that in order to bring a personal injury claim following a sporting injury the injury needs to be sustained in circumstances beyond those which one would normally expect to encounter whilst taking part in this activity and whether or not this is the case will need to be considered on the specific facts of a particular case.

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Martin is an Associate within the Personal Injury team.

Martin Usher
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