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Claiming compensation for sports injuries

Author: Diane Parker

This month sees the official end of the football season, the UEFA Europa league final, together with the European Rugby Union Challenge cup final and the Rugby Union Premiership final.

So, as two of the country’s most popular sports come to an end, this is a useful time to consider whether compensation can be recovered for injuries sustained when either playing or spectating.

Many sports are inherently dangerous, with a whole group of them based on the premise of causing intentional hurt to your opposition; boxing, wrestling and martial arts being typical examples.

Others are dangerous because of the equipment used – archery, shooting, javelin throwing, even darts.

In some, the rules anticipate and acknowledge harm may result – rugby, equestrian sports, motor sports and in others the likelihood of injury is rare. But, even in the most apparently benign of sports e.g. crown green bowling, snooker etc., injuries can and do occur.

English law operates on a premise of ‘consent’ and does not automatically entitle an injured sports participant to compensation. There is an assumption that if you go out onto a football field or get up on a horse, there is an understanding on your part that you might get hurt, and if you go for that header and clash heads with another player doing the same thing, that’s a risk of injury that you’ve accepted in playing the game.

Similarly, if your horse stumbles on landing over a fence, you’re assumed to have accepted the risk of ending up on the ground and possibly even getting trodden on.

Similar rules apply to spectators. If you choose a ringside seat at a wrestling match and someone is tossed out of the ring into your lap, you’re deemed to have accepted that risk. This issue most often arises in motorsports events when vehicles (or pieces of vehicles) leave the track and crash into spectator stands, but think also of cricket matches and other ball games where spectators often rush to try and catch well-hit balls.

In all the examples cited above, any injury arising would be highly unlikely to attract any compensation. So, when can compensation be recovered?

Applying the principle of ‘consent’ that causes so many claims to fail, as lawyers we have to assess how far that ‘consent’ extends. If you have been exposed to risk over and above that consented to, you may recover compensation for any injuries sustained.

What do we mean by this?

Let’s look at some of the examples cited above:

The football player arrives to play football and breaks his leg falling into a hole in the pitch that he couldn’t see due to grass growing over it. The player has a reasonable expectation that the pitch will be ‘fit for purpose’ and may well have a claim against the owner/keeper of the grounds.

The horse rider comes off because the jump has been so poorly constructed it falls apart entangling the horse’s legs, in this case you may well have a claim against the course builder.

The wrestling spectator would recover compensation for injuries if the entire stand collapsed under the weight of the audience or if he came into contact with some exposed electrical wiring.

And, as for items leaving the field and heading into the audience, the audience are entitled to assume for example, that safety barriers have been properly constructed to stop vehicles safely by using sandbags, straw bales etc., and if the accident occurred because basic safety measures had not been instituted then the injured parties (audience and driver in this example) would have grounds for a claim.

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