Who is liable if you slip on a tennis court? That was the question asked of the Court of Session in the case of Glennie v University Court of the University of Aberdeen. Mr Glennie was playing tennis on a court owned by the university. It was rented to King's College Tennis Club where Mr Glennie was a member. He was preparing to play a backhand shot when his left foot slipped from under him. He broke his ankle and was taken to hospital.

The Occupiers Liability (Scotland) Act 1960 applied to this case. Both parties agreed that if there was moss on the playing area of the court in sufficient quantity and density to cause a player to slip, that would constitute a danger under the 1960 Act. They also agreed that if the Pursuer did hurt himself by slipping on such a dangerous amount or density of moss, the university would be liable. It was accepted by the university that if the moss was in such a state, they should have identified that danger by inspecting the court and either remove the moss or close the court to prevent players being exposed to it.

The court had to assess the witness accounts of the extent of the moss on the court and whether that did cause the accident. The court heard evidence from a number of witnesses and saw photographs taken from around the time of the accident. There were varying accounts of the area covered in moss and identity of that moss. There were also varying accounts of where exactly on the court the pursuer fell. As with many cases, the evidence was heard so long after the accident itself, it is difficult for witnesses to have a clear memory of the details of the accident.

The court also heard evidence about inspections of the tennis court, which were carried out daily by the groundsman. He carried out an inspection every morning prior to the tennis club opening. His evidence was that he had a gentle run across the courts every morning to check how slippery they were.

Ultimately, the judge came to the decision that the tennis courts were, by their very nature, slippery, even astraturf courts such as the one in question. To establish liability, Mr Glennie would have to have established that the moss covered a sufficient area or was sufficiently dense that it constituted a danger. As it was, Mr Glennie failed to prove that there was moss on the area where he fell, nor that he slipped on it. Given this, he failed to prove his case.

What lessons can be learned by tennis clubs in relation to this accident? It is important to carry out an inspection of the tennis courts prior to them opening. If there is moss, or other obstacles, which cause a danger on the tennis court then the obstacle(s) should either be removed or the courts closed. In this case, there was very good evidence about the daily inspections that were carried out. If an accident does happen, it would be sensible to take photos immediately after it, so that there can be little dispute as to the state of the court at the time of the accident. In the present case, there were various photos available but not all photographs which had been taken after the accident had been retained and were produced in evidence. It was also unclear where exactly on the court the accident had happened.