(1986) Ltd 17.6.09

Court of Appeal upholds award of over £4.5m to footballer whose career was ruined.

Ben Collett suffered an injury during a football match in May 2003. Liability was admitted. At the time of the injury Ben was 18 years old and was playing in the reserves team for Manchester United. He hoped and expected to enjoy a successful career as a professional footballer at a high level. However, following the accident he never regained his former ability and subsequently gave up professional football. At first instance he was awarded a total of over £4.5m, which included over £3.8m in respect of future loss of earnings. The Defendants appealed against the award for future loss of earnings, challenging (1) the 15% discount applied to reflect the risk that Ben would not have achieved the expected level or that his career might not have lasted as long as expected; (2) the assessment of the prospective annual earnings of a player belonging to a club in the Championship in 2008/9; and (3) the decision to uplift the annual salary by 25% to reflect the finding that Ben would have played for a club at the upper end of the Championship League.  

Held: The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. Considering the grounds of appeal in turn, it accepted the submission made on behalf of Ben that, when it was appreciated that the trial Judge’s task was not merely to assess the risk of potential shortfall but also to take account of the potential for even higher earnings, the overall discount of 15% was not unreasonable. The Judge had little by way of published figures on which to go on when assessing the prospective annual earnings for 2008/9 and was entitled to make the findings she did. Finally, the evidence was ample to justify the Judge’s approach to the uplift to the annual salary.  

Comment: The award for future loss of earnings in this case was very high, but it is clear that Ben Collett was an extremely talented player. He was supported in his claim by a number of witnesses, including Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave evidence that his performance in the FA Youth Cup Final had been “absolutely outstanding”. The trial Judge had to make an assessment of his potential earnings, which is not an easy task in the competitive sporting world where success is not easy to achieve. However, the Court of Appeal has endorsed the approach adopted and upheld the award.