The area of sports and the law is peculiar for a number of reasons. This is an indirect acknowledgment that its place in society is somewhat different to that of our ordinary everyday activities of going to work or school etc.
While the area of sports and the law is actually quite broad, I only intend to examine something most people will have experienced at some stage – getting injured while playing sport.
The law for the most part generally examines what is reasonable. If an organisation or person’s actions (or reactions) are considered reasonable, then they will not give rise to a finding of negligence. In assessing the reasonableness of any action in the context of sport, a court tends to look at the probability of the accident occurring, the seriousness of the injury, the social value of the action of the defendant and finally the cost of eliminating the risk.
To put this in context, if we examine the issue of someone breaking their leg in a football or soccer match:
- There is a fairly high probability of injury in either sport
- The injury is potentially serious but not life threatening
- Tackling is an important part of football and soccer and therefore of social value
The cost of removing the threat is prohibitively high as tackling is within the rules of each game. Removing it would fundamentally ruin each game
Therefore, as football, soccer and rugby are fast, contact games involving tackling (of varying degrees), a broken leg is an unfortunate, but not unreasonable, outcome to participation.
Simply put, by participating in a sport, there is an element of voluntary assumption of risk. You are in fact consenting to the level of battery normally associated with that sport.
This begs the question of what is the normal inherent risk in participating in any such game. In the above example a tackle in football or soccer can reasonably lead to a broken leg. This is the nature of either game, however if the injury occurred as a result of the opponents negligently late tackle there is a question of whether the injured party assumed such a risk when taking to the field.
Indeed, just last year, a student in England received £25,000 when a negligently late tackle broke his leg in three places. This would be a very rare case where an injured player succeeded in getting compensation.
It is therefore important to note that each case will be decided very much on its own specific facts. It is equally important to note that the court gives a lot of weight to the decision of the referee. For instance a tackler being sent off with a straight red card may be a key indicator of malice or dangerous play. A simple mistake by an opponent will not be enough to ground liability; the action must have been so reckless or negligent that it blatantly exposed the opponent to the risk of injury.
Selectors and coaches also need to be careful that they do not expose their own players or opposition players to an unnecessary risk. An example of this would be if selectors played somebody who they knew had a dangerous propensity to maliciously attack opposition players or played an illegal player whom they didn’t know and if he subsequently injured an opposition player in a malicious or dangerous way.
The safest way to avoid liability/exposure to a compensation claim, is to play with reasonable force, and within the rules of the game.