Clubs to be held

Published 11 October 2009

By Ann Munro, Charles Russell LLP

The first case in which a Rugby Club has been held liable for the “off the ball” activities of its player has recently been decided by the English courts.


The result of the decision is that rugby clubs (and other sports clubs) are potentially exposed to claims for damages following an injury to a player sustained as a result of ”fisticuffs” between players during a game. Background 

In 2005 during a semi-professional game of Rugby Union, Richard Carroll (Redruth RFC) punched Andrew Gravil (Halifax RFC) in an “off the ball” incident and broke his eye socket, leading to reconstructive orbital surgery. Gravil sued both Carroll and Redruth RFC. The Court of Appeal ordered Redruth RFC to pay damages of £8,500 plus costs. 

Recent Judgment 

The Senior Court of Appeal Judge said in his judgment: “the mêlée was just the kind of thing that both Clubs would have expected to occur…..”regrettably, the throwing of punches is not uncommon in situations …. where the scrum is breaking up after the whistle has gone. Indeed, they can fairly be regarded as an ordinary (though undesirable) incident of a rugby match”. 

Prior to this case, it was widely felt that by entering “the gladiatorial arena” a player willingly accepted that he may suffer some degree of harm during the game. However, the recent case makes clear that this does not stretch as far as a willingness to be on the receiving end of a deliberate assault, an assault which in the mind of the Court of Appeal “can fairly be regarded as a reasonably incidental risk to the playing of rugby pursuant to the contract of employment”. The Court of Appeal decided that there was a sufficiently close connection between the punch and Carroll’s employment by the Rugby Club and it was “fair and just” to hold the Club vicariously liable for the player’s conduct. 

Issues for Rugby Clubs to consider 

The ramifications of this case should be carefully considered by all sports clubs, in particular clubs should: 

* Consider the Code of Conduct provisions in the contract of employment between the player and the Club to deter such incidents arising; * Give regard to the insurance and financial implications of the Club being held vicariously liable for a player’s conduct (in particular assaults); * Factor in the possibility that a player that a Rugby Club loans out to a lower league club could expose it to claims if the player’s contract is with them. 

Article obtained from, the website of Charles Russell LLP. Article reproduced with their kind permission. 

More information 

Patrick Gearon, Partner This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Jason Saiban, Partner This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.