Case Law Review: Negligence in Sport

31 March 2015

There have been a number of recent cases in the area of Sport throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland which demonstrate the necessity for Public Bodies, Clubs, Occupiers, and even participants  to be aware of their duty of care to others. In April 2014, in the case Courtney Harris-Browning v Odyssey Trust Company Limited and Belfast Giants 2008 Ltd No. [2014] NIQB 39. The Plaintiff brought a claim against the owners of the hockey team Belfast Giants, together with the Occupiers of the Odyssey Arena. This claim arose when in September 2008 whilst spectating a warm-up session before a match against the Cardiff Devils, the Plaintiff was struck on the head, by a puck leaving the ice rink, inflicting a wound that required 4 stitches and left a scar. Mr Justice Gillen dismissed the Plaintiff's claim on the ground that on the balance of probabilities the Plaintiff had failed to satisfy that the Defendants were guilty of negligence or in breach of the Occupiers' Liability Act (Northern Ireland) 1957. Mr Justice Gillen stated that "the arena where this match was played was as safe a place as could reasonably be expected", stating further that the steps taken by the occupiers, to include the provision of netting at the ends of goals, and perspex glass, were reasonable  precautions. Furthermore, there were a plethora of warning signs throughout the area, together with a warning placed on every ticket. There were also regular announcements throughout the course of the event warning people of the dangers of pucks. Mr Justice Gillen in his conclusions stated that "such risks are amongst the jolts and jogs to be expected of sporting life", stating that

the risks were no different from those which exist in a number of other sporting areas including field hockey, football, cricket, rugby or golf. We only need to look at the English Premier league and the recent fixture between Manchester City and QPR on 8th November 2014 when a 5 year old girl was struck by a wayward Yaya Toure strike, in order to see a demonstration of the point raised by Mr Justice Gillen.

In the Case of Billy Morrow v Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council No. [2012] NIQB 50, the Plaintiff brought a claim against the Council after he suffered a 'clay shoveler's fracture' whilst performing weightlifting exercises at Dungannon Leisure Centre. Mr Justice Gillen held that the plaintiff had been injured in the course of an exercise which by its very nature carried a measure of risk. No blame was attached to either the fitness instructor or the Council. It was further held that the plaintiff was lifting a weight he was used to in a safe environment which was properly organised with adequate facilities and monitored by experienced and appropriately trained staff.

In Robert Wilson v GP Haden Trading as Clyne Farm Centre [2013] EWHC 229 (QB), the Plaintiff was awarded damages in the sum of £167,514 for a lumbar vertebra fracture sustained while sliding down a fireman's pole whilst participating in an obstacle course. Mrs Justice Swift found that the Instructor who according to Risk Assessments was supposed to provide a demonstration on how to negotiate certain obstacles, "failed to exercise proper care for the safety of participants, in particular the safety of the claimant."

"Promoters and organisers must take appropriate steps to minimise such risks where reasonably practicable by the provision of safety measures of one form or another. An occupier of an arena such as the Odyssey and these defendants in particular are not taking decisions in the excitement of the competition. Their assessments should be measured and proportionate to the risk involved. The issue is whether or not the particular risk in question is one which the spectator has accepted or which the occupier should take steps to prevent"

This quote from Mr Justice Gillen is relevant to all of the above mentioned cases, not to mention the wider field of personal injury litigation in general. All occupiers must adequately risk sssess their premises, taking into account all walks of life, such as sporting participants and spectators. The responsibility does not lie solely with the Occupier but also with the employees, such as the Instructors. The benefit of risk assessing and dealing with the risks head on can be seen in the above Belfast Giants case. When the risks are identified, this can also allow employers to train their staff to the sufficient standard and attempt to combat the risk. As Mr Justice Gillen has stated, risks are inherent in sport. It is therefore imperative that all of those involved in any sporting activity, recognise their duty of care to those around them, and take reasonable steps to meet that duty.

Latest From Murphy O'Rawe

Case News

  • Briefing Note on Fifth Edition JSB Guidelines for Assessment ... ...

    read more


  • Following on from our Coffee and Bites fundraiser in ... ...

    read more


Case News

  • Briefing Note on Fifth Edition JSB Guidelines for Assessment ... ...

    read more


  • Following on from our Coffee and Bites fundraiser in ... ...

    read more