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Rugby and the Standard of Care in Field Games

Wales is battling Australia in the Rugby World Cup third place play-off as I type; accordingly it is fitting that our thoughts turn to rugby.

Yesterday the Court of Appeal considered the case of Jack Sutton who was injured as a teenager when training with Syston Rugby Football Club.  As he dropped to the ground in training his knee connected with a plastic object, found to be a broken cricket boundary marker.  Mr Sutton suffered an unpleasant injury and succeeded in a claim against the club at first instance on the basis that an inspection of the pitch should have been carried out before training but was not. 

The club accepted that the pitch should have been inspected and had not been, but defended the case on the ground that the inspection would have only looked for obvious obstructions or difficulties and the boundary marker would not have been seen.  It was lying beneath the level of the grass. 

The Court of Appeal overturned the decision at first instance, accepting the Defendant's stance.  With regard to the standard of the duty at common law Longmore LJ said:

"It is important that neither the game’s professional organisation nor the law should lay down standards that are too difficult for ordinary coaches and match organisers tomeet. Games of rugby are, after all, no more than games and, as such are obviously desirable activities within the meaning of section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006 (neither party suggested that this section in any way altered the common law position). I would therefore conclude that, before a game or training session, a pitch should be walked over at a reasonable walking pace by a coach or match organiser (or someone on their behalf) and that, if that is done, that will satisfy a Club’s common law duty of care in relation to such inspection. If, of course, more than one coach or organiser is available, each such person could inspect a pre-agreed part of the pitch."

With regard to causation the court concluded that had such an inspection been carried out, the item that caused the injury would not have been identified. 



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