05-12-2011

Liabilities of rugby clubs for injury to players

The courts have recently given guidance on the circumstances when a rugby club can be liable for injury caused to a player during training.

A 16-year old rugby player fractured his kneecap during training when he fell on a broken plastic boundary marker that was hidden in the grass. This ended a promising career. He claimed the club had breached the legal duty of care it owed to him because it had not carried out a pitch inspection, or an adequate one. The County Court agreed, and awarded him £54,000 compensation.

The Court of Appeal reversed the County Court decision. It said that the law should not impose a duty of care that is too difficult for ordinary sports clubs and their coaches to meet. In this case, the boundary marker was in lush grass and therefore well hidden. No-one had seen it until the accident. Even after the accident some witnesses said that they could not see it without using their hands to find it, even when only two feet away from it.

The Court said that a club’s duty of care would be satisfied if there was a pitch inspection by a coach walking at a ‘reasonable’ pace. In this case, a coach making such an inspection would have been unlikely to spot the boundary marker. The club had not therefore breached its duty of care.

Recommendation

Coaches at rugby clubs should carry out a risk assessment of their grounds and procedures, and, at the very least, carry out a pitch inspection before training and matches, at a reasonable pace.