Sports Law

Second edition

by Mark James

Updates for Chapter 5: Liability for injuries caused by non-participants

These updates were last reviewed in December 2013

Updates and Amplifications

5.1.1 Possible explanation for the expansion of negligence liability

​Fourthly, it can be fuelled by improvements in medical science and a greater knowledge of how and why injuries are caused. For example, it was reported in the Daily Mail on 11 March 2013 that a coroner had found that a blood clot that precipitated a fatal stroke in an amateur footballer had been caused by the repeated sub-concussive blows associated with heading a football ( A finding like this could in turn raise the possibility of claims being made against the sport’s governing bodies (for permitting headers and/or for failing to regulate appropriately the balls used), coaches (for failing to train players properly in the art of heading a football) or ball manufacturers (for failing to test their products properly before providing them to the market). Litigation of a similar kind is currently underway in the US, where over 4,000 former National Football League players are suing the NFL for brain injuries suffered as a result of repeated blows to the head suffered during American football games (see further,

Expansions in the range of potential defendants can also be imposed by the courts as a matter of policy. In Woodland v Essex County Council [2013] UKSC 66 (pdf), the Supreme Court held that schools owe a non-delegable duty to ensure the safety of the pupils that they have undertaken to teach. This duty is not discharged by taking reasonable care to appoint apparently competent people to undertake the teaching on the school’s behalf; the school remains personally responsible to ensure that care is in fact taken in the teaching of the children under its care. Thus, as in the instant case, where swimming lessons were sub-contracted out by a school to an apparently competent independent instructor, the school remained liable for the harm caused to the claimant regardless of any additional claim that could have been brought in negligence against the instructor. Breach of duty and the appropriate standard of care (coaches, instructors and supervisors)

In contrast to the decision in Sutton v Syston RFC Ltd [2011] EWCA Civ 1182 (see further Hot Topic 5 and, the failure to carry out an appropriate risk assessment resulted in liability in the Scottish case of Cox v Dundee City Council [2014] CSOH 3. The pursuer damaged a bone in his foot whilst on a training course for prospective rugby coaches that was run by an employee of the defender. It was held that the inconsistent, uneven, rutted and in places frozen ground should have been identified by a reasonably competent pre-session ground inspection. As there was no risk assessment record completed, it was unclear if any inspection had been carried out of the state of the ground and in particular whether it was too hard to ‘take a stud’. Further, if an inspection had been conducted, it ought to have highlighted that the part of the ground used for the session was inappropriate and potentially dangerous. Therefore, the Council was vicariously liable for the negligent conduct of its employee running the session.