Legal Warning For Sports Clubs

Posted on: 11 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

A sports club has become the first to be sued because one of its players was involved in a deliberate assault.


A ground-breaking court case will have significant effects on sports clubs up and down the country, warns law firm Dolmans.

While sports players have previously been sued for deliberately injuring other players, a sports club has become the first to be sued because one of their players was involved in a deliberate assault.

Semi-professional rugby player Andrew Gravil was left with a broken eye-socket after being punched in the face by Redruth Rugby Football Club player Richard Carroll. After suing the club, he was awarded £8,500 in damages together with his costs.

Partner Clare Hoskins, who is a member of the Sports Law Team of Dolmans Solicitors in Cardiff and is a lay member of the Sports Resolution Panel of Arbitrators, says, “There have been previous incidents where players have sued other players for injuries deliberately caused and indeed some players have been the subject of high profile criminal convictions for deliberate assaults.”

“However, the new feature in this case is that the player actually sued the club which has repercussions for all sports clubs.”

“Generally, the attitude of the courts to injuries in competitive sport revolves around the maxim ‘volenti non fit injuria’ which essentially means that all players accept the risk of injury when they enter into competitive sport.”

“But while players might accept the risk of an injury, this does not mean that they consent to being deliberately assaulted.”

In this case, the player was found liable at the first instance hearing for the assault but the club was not. However, Carroll failed to satisfy the judgement and consequently the claimant sought to recover the damages from the club at the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal decided that there was a sufficiently close connection between the punch and Carroll’s employment, as the skirmish was essentially part of the game even though the whistle had been blown at the time the punch was thrown. Further, it decided that it was fair and just to hold the club liable.

Hoskins says, “The club’s liability arose out of their own vicarious liability for the actions of their player on the basis that the player was employed by them.”

“Sports clubs have previously been found liable for injuries arising due to the negligent conduct of players while on the field of play, but not for deliberate assaults by their players.”

“But the court decided that it was incumbent on players and clubs to take all reasonable steps to eradicate the risk of foul play which might cause injury.”

“The club had not in fact disciplined the player and the court commented that it was an obvious temptation for a club to turn a blind eye to foul play.”

Sports clubs will now feel the implications of the court’s decision, warns Dolmans.

Hoskins explains, “It is the increasingly professional manner in which sport is conducted, even by clubs that are run for the local community and not for profit, which has essentially given rise to this situation and which could have a detrimental impact on clubs after this decision.”

“Had the player not been employed by the club but had simply been playing for the team as a hobby, as would have been the case some 10 years or so ago, then the club would not have been found liable.”

“In this case it is perhaps understandable why the court considered that a punch thrown during the course of the game is sufficiently closely connected to the player’s contract of employment as to give rise to vicarious liability on the club."

"That in itself would cover numerous incidents that take place every weekend across the country in football and rugby matches and consequently this has got to be a concern for clubs who employ players."

The club’s insurers have agreed to cover the claim in this case.

However Hoskins warns that increased insurance premiums for the cover are a likely consequence of this decision.

"Some insurance policies may exclude injuries arising from deliberate assaults and illegal conduct and so the risk may not be covered in all instances."

“The question also arises as to what other activities would be included, for instance if an assault takes place at an after match event. This is an area which will no doubt develop."

“For organisers up and down the country, the sobering thought of having to pay damages for any assault in competitive games such as rugby, football, hockey, or any other games where a brawl can break out is a worrying prospect, particularly where legal costs can ensue.”

Web Links

Dolmans Solicitors has a specialist sports law team. For more information call 029 2034 5531 or visit www.dolmans.co.uk.

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