04 October, 2019
Forbes has successfully defended a "player on player" football claim following a 3-day trial.
The Claimant was playing in a football match against the Defendant's team. About half way through the first-half the Claimant suffered a serious injury to his Achilles tendon. The Claimant alleged that the Defendant challenged him from behind, raking his boot studs across the back of his ankle when he was still 6-8 feet from the ball. He brought a claim for personal injury against the Defendant. The Defendant denied the claim and argued that he was facing his own net when the goalkeeper kicked the ball to him. The Defendant maintained that he had attempted to bring the ball under control and the Claimant lunged towards it from behind him, injuring himself in the process.
During the trial, the Judge heard evidence from both sides and noted the witnesses differed significantly in their accounts of the incident. The Claimant gave inconsistent evidence as to whether he was running or standing still, and whether or not he had his leg in the air prior to the collision. During cross-examination, the Claimant conceded that the rear of his leg was in fact hit by the Defendant's instep, rather than his studs.
The Judge found there was no reliable account of what the Claimant was doing at the time he came in to contact with the Defendant. If the Claimant's case was accepted, it was agreed that the Defendant had no chance of getting the ball. Any contact with his leg would have been a gratuitous assault, rather than an attempt to get the ball. The Judge noted that the Claimant's witnesses were at pains to say that the Defendant had not acted deliberately.
The Judge concluded that players in competitive sports owe a duty to other players to take care. He remarked that it is often difficult to establish breach of duty in the context of a sporting contest where contact is inevitable and players robustly challenge each other for the ball. The Judge was not satisfied that the Defendant had hit him with his boot on the back of his ankle when the ball was 6-8 feet from him. He determined that the incident was not negligent or reckless and he dismissed the claim.
This is an important decision as "player on player" claims are becoming increasingly prevalent. Injuries in football and other contact sports are a common occurrence, and are an accepted part of the game. However, just because players accept they may be injured during a game, it does not prevent them from bringing a claim for personal injury. The law of negligence in sports claims is the same as for all other cases, so the potential for civil action arising from injuries sustained in competitive sports is huge. In practice, the evidential threshold is high for Claimants; players must generally establish that the other player involved acted with deliberate or reckless disregard for the other participant's safety. However, what may be considered reasonable is a matter of interpretation based upon the individual facts, which is why it is important to secure advice from a specialist lawyer as soon as possible after the incident.