In Czernuszka v King  EWHC 380 (KB) 23 February 2023, the High Court in England had to consider the degree of care which a player is required to exercise despite the inherent risks that may be at play in high contact sports such as rugby.
The claimant was playing her first competitive rugby match in a developmental league against the defendant's team. The defendant was described by witnesses as "far too good" for that level and that she "didn’t have regard for the players she was coming into contact with." Earlier in the match, the claimant overheard the defendant exclaim to her teammates, "I'm going to break her". Near the end of the game the defendant tackled the claimant causing a spinal cord injury rendering her paraplegic.
Video evidence of the match and the tackle in question was available for examination by both the expert witnesses and the judge. Following a scrum, the claimant was seen bending down to pick up the ball. The defendant tackled the claimant before she was in possession of the ball and in a manner described by the judge as "not recognised in rugby."
Following trial, the defendant was found liable. In assessing liability, the court placed significant focus on the following issues:
- the "overly aggressive" nature of the defendant in combination with her increased size and strength over the other players;
- The fact that the defendant ignored the ball that was in play and went "straight for the claimant" rather than the ball;
- The increased knowledge of the defendant in respect of the sport meant the defendant would have known the claimant was in a vulnerable position whereas the claimant likely did not know the vulnerable position she was in due to inexperience; and
- That the execution of the "tackle" was with "reckless disregard for the claimant's safety" and was conducted "in a manner which was liable to cause injury."
Although this case turned on its facts it remains a useful example of the type of conduct which, in a sporting context, a court will easily find to be reckless or to demonstrate a high degree of carelessness. It is clear that "sport is not exempt from the law of negligence."
For more information or advice on issues relating to personal injury or negligence, get in touch with your usual Brodies contact.