Sports injuries: failing to rein it in
When playing sport, everyone appreciates there is a degree of risk involved – whether that be twisting your ankle playing five-a-side football, taking a tumble during the local parkrun, or falling off your bicycle when out for a bike ride.
The level of inherent risk depends on the sport. For example, when playing golf or bowling it’s expected that there is a low risk of injury. However, in sports such as climbing, boxing or rugby there is a higher chance of injury due to the risk involved or the amount of contact between players.
Whilst players must accept there is a degree of risk in playing sport, they do not consent to injury which has been caused by another player’s or participant’s negligence.
As with all claims in negligence, the following elements must be established to be successful:
- There is a duty of care owed to the injured person by the Defendant;
- The Defendant breached that duty of care; and
- That the harm caused to the injured person was caused directly by that breach of duty.
Dealing with risk:
Negligence in sport is different to other claims in negligence due to the “assumption of risk” consented to by those participating. So, how does this operate in claims involving sports injury?
Cases in this area have established that the success of a claim depends on the facts and cannot be dealt with in a vacuum (Peter Harvey Caldwell v Adrian Maguire and Mick Fitzgerald  EWCA Civ 1054).
In Caldwell five principles were established for sports injury cases, these can be summarised as:
- Each participant owes a duty to each and all other participants and by engaging in the sport the participants must accept there are inherent risks involved.
- The care owed to others is to act in a way which can reasonably avoid inflicting injury to others when accounting for all the circumstances.
- The “circumstances” include the demands of the sport, its rules, customs, standards, skill and the judgement expected of the participants.
- It will not be enough to show there was an error in judgment or a lapse in skill and liability will not be found where there is an incident which is inherent within the sport – i.e. where an incident is part and parcel of the sport itself.
- It may be difficult to prove there was a breach of duty without proof that the other party had acted with reckless disregard for the other participant’s safety.
In December 2021, there was a case before the High Court by one jockey against another (Tylicki v Gibbons  EWHC 3470 (QB).
In that race, around the mid-way mark, two horses fell and another threw its jockey. Usually such falls happen at the beginning or end of the race and so for such an incident to happen mid-race was considered “unusual”. Mr Tylicki was one of the jockeys who had fallen from his horse and as a result, he was paralysed and will require a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.
The judge reviewed the race footage and heard from expert witnesses on horse racing and the rules of the sport. He concluded that Gibbons had not just had a lapse of concentration but had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of Tylicki which led to the incident and caused his horse to fall leading to his injuries.
Whilst this case does not set a precedent for future cases or change the law, it does show that in such cases judges do require that something more serious than a momentary lapse of judgement, especially in fast moving sports such as horse racing.
In another recent case, Fulham Football Club v Jones  EWHC 1108 (QB), it involved an injury caused during a football match. On 10 December 2016, there was a fixture between Swansea City FC and Fulham FC. During the match, Harris (for Fulham) tackled Jones causing a serious right ankle injury that ultimately ended his career. Despite the injury, during the match, the referee did not consider that there had been a foul.
A trial was held in August 2021 and Jones was successful in his claim against Fulham FC, as Harris’ employer. The judge said that the tackle was “serious foul play” from a serious error in judgment to make the tackle in the way he did.
However, Fulham appealed the decision and were successful. The judge said that in such cases a judge must have in his mind the reality of competitive sports like football. He also said that consideration should be given to the reaction of the referee and it cannot be simply dismissed as not relevant to a claim in negligence – although a referee’s decision is not the “be all and end all” for such claims it does help give context to the incident. Put simply, a breach of sporting rules does not equate to negligence.
As can be seen from the two examples above, claims in respect of sports injury do very much depend on their facts and the threshold for proving a breach of duty by one participant to another can be very high.
The Accident Claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp are experienced in dealing with claims where a sporting or leisure pursuit has resulted in serious injury. If you or a loved one have suffered injuries during a sporting incident, you may be entitled to compensation. Please do not hesitate to discuss your potential claim in confidence with one of our specialist Accident Claims solicitors free on 020 7288 4800.