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Rugby Injury Award Overturned

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Jack Sutton suffered a severe injury to his knee during a training session at Syston Rugby Football Club. The County Court judge awarded him damages of £54,000. The award was overturned by a unanimous Court of Appeal in a judgment handed down on 20th October 2011.
The injury was caused when he dived to touch down for a try and gashed his knee on a plastic object – a broken off part of a cricket boundary marker left behind by a cricket club when it had used the area a few days earlier. The case turned on the questions (1) of the steps a Club should take to discharge its duty of care to players and (2) of whether failure to discharge the duty was the cause of the injury.

The Court of Appeal held that the Club was under a duty to inspect the pitch and that before a match or training session the ‘pitch should be walked over at a reasoanable walking pace by a coach or match organiser (or someone on their behalf)’. Reference was made to the RFU risk assessment guidelines. Lord Justice Longmore thought it important not to “lay down standards that are too difficult for ordinary coaches and match organisers to meet”. However, the pitch inspection had not in this case been adequate.

So we turn to the question of causation and it is here that Jack failed on appeal. He had been unable to show, on a balance of probabilities, that the stub of the boundary marker would have been discovered on a reasonable inspection.

In concluding his judgment Lord Justice Longmore said the the Court “must not be too astute to impose duties of care which would make rugby playing as a whole more subject to interference from the courts than it should be.”