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Sports injuries claims – and the issue of consent

The risk of injury is a normal part of playing sport, particularly in contact sports.  Injuries happen but most of the time, these are relatively minor.   By taking part, players implicitly consent to a certain level of risk.  However, that does not mean that participants consent to any injury, however caused, and there are occasions when civil (and sometimes criminal) liability can arise from incidents, particularly when the injury was intentional.

In a sporting event, participants owe a duty of care to each other to take reasonable care to avoid injuring each other.  Duties of care are also owed by and to coaches, organisers, the occupier of the facilities, the club, the league, referees, doctors and spectators.

The standard of care and the risks to which the participants consent depend on the rules of the sport, the “playing culture” and the circumstances of the incident.  For example, tackling someone to the ground is a normal part of rugby.  In tennis, not so much.  In boxing, participants expect to be punched but do not consent to have part of their ear bitten off (such as in the 1997 fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield).

One example that highlights the issues around what risks are to be expected can be found in the tragic case of Watson v British Boxing Board of Control [2001] QB 1134.   Some may  remember the fight between Chris Eubank and Michael Watson in the 1990s.  Chris Eubank knocked Michael Watson out.  Negligently, ringside doctors did not give Watson attention for 7 minutes, despite Watson remaining unconscious.  He was given no oxygen and was sent by the doctors to a hospital without a neurosurgery unit.  By the time he was sent to a hospital with appropriate specialists, he had suffered serious permanent brain injury.  If he had been treated appropriately and sooner, he would not have suffered permanent brain injury.  Watson sued the British Boxing Board of Control, which medically supervised the event.  They defended (and unsuccessfully appealed) the case on the basis that Watson accepted the risk when he got into the right.  The Court found that the BBBC was negligent and was liable for Watson’s injuries.  Watson had consented to being in a boxing match and to the risk of being knocked out, but did not consent to the negligent medical treatment afterwards that resulted in the permanent brain injury.

Whether a claim for sports injuries is successful depends very much on the individual facts of the case.  If you have suffered injury in a sporting event and would like legal advice, please contact Richard Green on 01275 858515 or at richard.green@wards.uk.com.

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