Sports Injury Claims - What you need to know

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Fortunately, I have only witnessed one injury myself when a member of the men's Chinese gymnastics team was carried off following a rather awkward landing off the vault.  However, I have been informed by colleagues that one of the English GB hockey team was hit in the face by a hockey stick and broke her jaw.  She has subsequently undergone surgery.  Also a couple of riders were thrown during the recent Equestrian event.  Whilst I hope that these will be the only injuries I very doubt this will be the case.  Sporting activities can by their very nature involve a certain level of danger for those taking part and spectating, obviously the riskier the sport the more dangerous it is and the greater risk there is of a resulting injury.

Most who take part in sporting activities, whether it be a professional athlete or someone enjoying a hobby / pastime, are aware that sometimes accidents will and do happen and injury is part and parcel of taking part.  If you take part in a sport you accept the natural risk of injury. However, if an injury occurs that is not a normal and acceptable risk of the sport it may be possible to claim damages for personal injury.  To establish negligence you need to prove that another party was to blame for the action that led to the injury. Sports injuries can occur in a number of ways and the following list is not exhaustive but includes;

-Defect with the playing service  - such as a hidden hole in a rugby or football pitch

-Defective Equipment  -  it make break or matting on a floor may not have sufficient cushioning

-Poor umpiring or failure of referee to control the match

-Inadequate supervision

-Dangerous or reckless tackles

-Incompetence or negligence of others - such as being wiped out by a skier out of control

-A spectator being struck  either intentionally or unintentionally with sports equipment

If you are injured at a sporting venue, club or school you would expect such establishments to have liability insurance in place to cover personal injury claims and to ensure those injured are adequately compensated.   This is known as public liability insurance.   It may surprise you to know however that it is not compulsory in the UK for a club or venue to have insurance at all, let alone a policy sufficient to cover the financial consequences of a catastrophic injury.

It isn't only taking part in a sporting activity that can result in injury, sometime merely spectating can result in harm.  If you are a spectator you expect to be able do so safely.  You assume that those holding events ensure their premises are safe in accordance with health and safety standards and that you view the sport from a safe distance and in a suitable spot.  If seating is provided it should be safe, suitable and maintained.  Any barriers put up to secure spectators and prevent them from entering dangerous areas should be in reasonable condition and firmly secured into place and not easily moved.  Adequate lighting for the venue and event should be provided and any hazards clearly highlighted with the appropriate warning signs. The venue should carry out risk assessments prior to events inviting members of the public to spectator and ensure that crowd control measures are in place.  There is also an obligation to have a reasonable system in place to clear away rubbish to prevent people slipping.  A recent example of a spectator being injured is the small child that was hit on head by a wayward ball hit during the open by Rory McElroy.

There have been a number of reported cases that reflect the range of injuries sustained during sporting events;

Wooldridge v. Sumner

A spectator at a horse show was injured when a horse went out of control and out of the arena. The Court ruled the horseman was not negligent as a spectator at a game or competition takes a risk of injury  by just being there and knowing this could happen.  Liability would only apply if the horseman's conduct is such as to be considered a reckless disregard.

Condon v. Basi

The defendant tackled the claimant during a football match resulting in the claimant suffering a broken leg.  The court held there is a general standard of care owed under which a player is under a duty to take all reasonable care taking into account the circumstances in which he finds himself.   This decision changed the standard of care from reckless disregard to a duty to take all reasonable care.

Stanley v. Bryn Close (T/A Armthorpe Moto Parc) 

A Defendant motorcycle track operator was found both vicariously and directly liable for the actions of one of its marshals.  A collision occurred between the claimant and another motorcyclist during a race as a result of a marshal's failure to display a yellow flag when the claimant reached a certain point of the track.  The flag would have served as a warning that there was an obstruction ahead and the claimant should exercise caution.  It was held that the marshal may have misunderstood some of the rules of the race due to inexperience and inadequate training.

Green v. Sunset & Vine Productions Ltd and British Automobile Racing Club Ltd

This case was heard in the Court of Appeal.  They dismissed the case on the basis that neither defendant had been at fault for the accident.  The claimant was a highly experienced racing driver of historic racing cars.  On the day of the accident he had been driving in a race at the Goodwood racing circuit when he clipped the kerb and hit a tyre wall sustaining injury.  He alleged that the Sunset & Vine had been negligent in placing a camera known as a "cam kerb" for the purposes of broadcasting at that point of the track and in an insecure manner which had caused him to lose control.  His claim against the British Automobile Racing Club was that as the organiser it was negligent in failing to have the kerb cam removed.  The Court found no evidence to suggest the camera had been protruding, it was designed to be driven over and was not materially causative of the accident.  The claimant had simply made an error of judgment.

Collet v. Smith and Middlesbrough Football Club and Athletic Co

The Claimant, a professional footballer, was successful in his claim following a negligent tackle by another footballer during a match.  He succeeded in his claim against the club which was vicariously liable for their player's actions.

Richard John Vowles v. David Evans and Welsh Rigby Union Ltd

A referee of an adult amateur rugby match was found to owe a duty of care to the players to take reasonable care for their safety when carrying out his refereeing duties and his breach of that duty resulted in the claimant's injury.

I don't want to put anyone off participating in sports, you just need to ensure that risks are kept to a minimum.  We all think it won't happen to us, but unfortunately sometimes it does and something which happens within a matter of a few seconds can have devastating consequences. 

For further information or advice on any of the above issues, please contact Karen Thompson, a Legal Executive in our Personal Injury team, on 023 8085  7344 or at Alternatively, please fill in our Contact form and we will call you back.

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