Participation in sporting activities very often involves the acceptance of some degree of risk of injury. This is otherwise known as the “willing assumption of risk” defence. However, a footballer, for example, cannot be said to have voluntarily assumed the risk of injury by another player’s negligence simply by taking to the pitch.
Footballers have sought compensation for injuries sustained during matches, even after assuming a degree of risk. For example, in 2008 a former Manchester United player named Ben Collett was awarded more than £4.5 million in compensation after being injured in a tackle during a game against Middlesbrough. Collett’s right leg was broken in two places during a match in May 2003, ending his career as a footballer before it had even begun. The offending player, Gary Smith and Middlesbrough admitted liability for the injury and compensation was paid by the club’s insurers. Collett’s compensation consisted of mostly projected loss of future earnings. His potential as a footballer was confirmed in court by Sir Alex Ferguson and Gary Neville.
A more recent example involves Nottingham Forest striker, Dexter Blackstone, who is currently seeking compensation from Seyi Olofinjana and his former club, Cardiff City, for negligence. Blackstone suffered a knee injury after a high tackle from Olofinjana, which took place in the 88thminute of a match in November 2010. Blackstone was injured for more than a year. The claim is ongoing.
As illustrated by the examples above, a dangerous tackle is capable of causing long term injury, which may end a player’s career or result in the injured player being side-lined for a significant period of time. This in turn can negatively impact the whole team’s performance, particularly where the squad is small in number and it is a key player that is out of action.
The question of whether a player or club will be deemed negligent following an injury to another player will depend heavily on the facts of each individual sporting scenario. According to previous cases on the subject, players in competitive sports, such as football, do owe a duty to each other to take reasonable care in the particular circumstances in which they are placed. A claimant is not required to establish that the defendant was reckless; however, the breach of duty must be serious. Defendants will not be liable for mere errors of judgement, oversights or lapses in the context of a fast moving contest. The rules or codes of the particular sport will be relevant in considering whether or not the defendant breached their duty of care. However, the skill level of the defendant will not have an impact on the standard of care imposed on him.
To some extent sports men and woman do voluntarily assume the risk of sustaining injuries that are associated with their chosen sport. However, the defence of “willing assumption of risk” has limited application in most sports. The application of the defence is obvious in sports such as boxing, where inflicting injury is the object of the exercise. A boxer enters the ring knowing that he will be struck. However, a boxer will not have consented to being struck outside the rules of boxing. As with any other industry, there are scenarios were responsibility should be assumed by the participants, match officials, organisers or owners who fail to adhere to the proper standards of safety.