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The Duty of Care Owed to Rugby Players

By Senior Associate, Personal Injury

We’ve been blessed with some great sporting events so far this year – from the England cricket team’s emphatic Ashes win against Australia to the heroic efforts of the Team GB athletes at the World Athletics Championship, 2015 has been a great year for the sports fan.

The action doesn’t stop there, as this month sees the start of the Rugby World Cup. England’s game against Fiji on 18th September kicks off six weeks of rugby, with 18 other teams battling it out to lift the Webb Ellis Cup at Twickenham on 31st October.

More Sports. More Participants. More Injuries?

Like most other major sporting events, the Rugby World Cup is likely to inspire people across the country to try the sport out. Every year we see tennis courts bursting to capacity during Wimbledon fortnight, and this summer the ardent calls of “howzat!” echoed around local parks during the Ashes as children tried to emulate their cricket heroes.

It’s inspiring to know that 15.5 million people in England regularly play sport and, who knows, after this great sporting year, maybe this figure will climb a little higher.

One thing’s for sure though, sports fans – and especially young children – will copy whatever they see their heroes do on screen. Sometimes this is purely innocent – like staging a reconstruction of football’s goal of the season or mimicking Usain Bolt’s famous ‘lightning’ celebration after winning a race – but if a child is to copy negligent or dangerous play that they’ve seen on TV, that’s not good at all.

Negligent Play and the Duty of Care Owed to Rugby Players

It’s an unfortunate fact that amateur sportspeople are injured day in, day out doing the sports they love.

The Court of Appeal considered the question of whether rugby players are owed a duty of care in the 2003 case of Vowles v Evans. In this case, the claimant was seriously injured in an amateur rugby game when a scrum collapsed and was later confined to a wheelchair.

In reaching their judgement, the Court of Appeal did not distinguish between amateur and professional games and held that rugby referees owe a duty of care to the players. As they found that the referee in this particular game breached this duty of care, the court ruled that the Welsh Rugby Union was vicariously liable for the claimant’s injury – meaning that they were responsible for the referee’s negligence as he was employed by them, or they had a relationship with the referee that was akin to employment.

What’s also interesting about the Vowles v Evans case is that the court said that, although rugby is an “inherently dangerous sport”, referees should exercise “reasonable care” in minimising the risk of harm to rugby players.

Many sports injury claims are brought because of an injury sustained as a result of a breach of a duty of care on behalf of a sports club, or the organisers of the sporting event. I hope that the forthcoming Rugby World Cup will be an example of excellent refereeing, especially where player welfare is concerned. With the current focus on rugby head injuries, the duty of care owed to rugby players is, perhaps, more under the spotlight now than it has ever been.

Tracey Benson is a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK specialising in sports injury claims.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have many years of experience in helping athletes and sportspeople claim compensation for injuries sustained as a result of dangerous or negligent play. Most of our claims are dealt with on a No Win No Fee basis, meaning there is no financial risk to you.

For a free consultation, call our Sports Injury Solicitors 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you.