Sports organisation could be vicariously liable for injury to players due to the poor conditions of pitches

Published 30 January 2014 | Authored by: Adam Lovatt

In this blog, Adam Lovatt reflects upon a decision of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, which saw Dundee City Council found vicariously liable for the one of their employees allowing rugby training to take place on a frozen pitch with injury resulting to one of the players.

The case of Drummond Cox v Dundee City Council may not immediately mean much to many people; however in years to come it may be a landmark decision and set a precedent as to the responsibility that referees and coaches have when allowing sporting events to take place in inclement weather.

In this case, Drummond Cox, raised an action against Dundee City Council after he sustained a fracture to the fifth metatarsal of his left foot, which required surgery and the insertion of a screw, following an injury suffered at rugby training. The key dispute in the case was the state of the underfoot conditions and whether the pitch where the training took place was suitable for the training.

The key test in the case, as discussed in the decision of Lady Scott, was whether the pitch could 'take a stud'. Many of us have played sport on a pitch that may be hard, or indeed frozen, but have been fortunate enough not to suffer any form of injury despite the state of the pitch. Mr Cox, in making a side-step in training to avoid contact from other players, heard a crack when planting his foot on the ground to avoid such contact.

The employee of the defendants that allowed the training to take place admitted that questions had been asked prior to the training as to whether the pitch was suitable for use and the employee considered that it was. Evidence from many of the players taking part in the training suggested that they were of the view that the pitch was uneven and was rutted. The employee admitted that the rugby pitch which would normally be used for training was not fit for purpose and that training was moved to a different area within the complex in order to avoid the frozen area.

Lady Scott, took on board the defendants argument that none of the players walked off the pitch or refused to train despite the conditions, yet she was of the view that the culture of rugby and the need of the players to attend the training course which was taking place, meant that they would have wanted the training to take place despite the conditions.

The risk assessment carried out by the employee was found to be inadequate as they did not check to an appropriate standard whether the pitch was fit to be played on and there was an obvious risk of injury to Mr Cox. As a result the Council was found to be liable in the sum of £30,000 in compensation and damages for the actions of the employee and the injury Mr Cox suffered.

Many sporting organisations (including referees acting on behalf of organisations) and city councils, who allow training sessions or matches to take place in dubious weather conditions, should take note of this decision. Often pressure from parents and coaches from a playing or financial perspective means that sporting events take place on conditions which are not safe or fit for use. A proper risk assessment of conditions should be carried out where necessary and training should be more widely available to those responsible for deciding if events can take place, to ensure that court actions such as this do not become the norm. Whilst injuries will continue to happen, that is in the nature of sport and cannot be legislated for. However, weather conditions and the suitability of pitches is something over which an individual can ultimately make a decision and decide whether the risk of injury is too severe and can be prevented. £30,000 is a significant sum for a Council to have to fork out for the action of an employee. Dundee City Council may not be the last organisation faced with the prospect of having to make such a payment if proper assessments are not made in future.

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About the Author

Adam Lovatt

Adam Lovatt

Adam is a lawyer specialising in sports law with IMG. Adam has a wide range of commercial and litigation experience from his four years as a qualified solicitor. Adam has a passion for sports law and is currently undertaking a IP Law Masters programme with the University of London. He is passionate about most sports particularly football, golf and tennis.

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