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Sporting risks and injuries and the law

Afternoon all.

Sporting risks and injuries are in the headlines a lot at the moment. The tragic outcome of the Grand National for the horses if not, thankfully, for the jockeys and the horrible case of the injury caused to Leicester Tigers rugby player Rob Hawkins by Northampton player Calum Clark are shocking recent examples of what can happen when things go wrong in sport.

This coming weekend there is concern for many over the outcome of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Will it all go off okay and will everyone emerge safe and well, never mind the huge wider human rights concerns for the local people?

Injury compensation law is often tangled up uncomfortably in events like these and can have an impact on sport at amateur levels too.

Taking my three examples there are some interesting points to consider.

The Grand National (and jump racing generally) is faced with a serious problem. The race, and let’s face it all other jump racing, is risky. So is playing rugby, motorcycling, skiing and just about every other sporting pursuit as well. Society and the law both recognise that with sporting risks come thrills, rewards and so on. Trying to eradicate EVERY risk is not desirable. Imagine making rugby a non-contact sport – safer but dull as ditch water.

The Grand National has to balance the thrill and the spectacle of the attraction with the level of risk it presents. Put brutally simply, even the most partisan of commentators and race supporters would recognise that it cannot be justifiable for 2 horses to die every year in the race and for jockeys too to face high risks of serious injury or worse. I’m sure they were praying for an exciting race where every horse and rider came out unscathed, but they didn’t get that.

The law approaches these scenarios by accepting that the human competitors at least go into it with their eyes open and can weigh up and choose whether to take the risk. The horses have no such choice, but their owners do on their behalf. Metaphorically speaking, the rule of thumb is that “once you cross the white line” and enter the arena or field of play you consent to the normal rough and tumble inherent in the sport. For example, I broke my arm playing rugby and it was nobodies’ fault; it was an accident that was part of the game and I did not and could not sue anyone.

If a jockey were to be seriously injured in next year’s Grand National then I think it is extremely unlikely that they could sue the organisers or the horse owner for compensation. However, the more instances and precedents there are for bad falls, the more that position might be eroded. I’m sure the organisers will think hard about this and try to take every possible step and precaution to increase safety levels year on year.

The second example is markedly different. Calum Clark, an England rugby squad member as recently as this January and former England Under 20’s captain, snapped Rob Hawkins’ elbow backwards after the whistle had gone and off the ball. He did it on live TV and was caught on camera doing so. It looked very, very bad, malicious even, and Hawkins was pinned and defenceless at the time.

Clark’s been given a 64 week playing ban, commuted to 32 weeks, presumably for mitigation given at his hearing. Hawkins suffered multiple fractures and has undergone reconstructive surgery. The poor lad could be finished at rugby, his professional career.

In my opinion this example went way beyond the ordinary rough and tumble. Put it this way, if Mr. Hawkins gave me a call about it I think I’d tell him that I believe he has a good chance of succeeding in a claim against Clark and/or his employer. The case is strengthened greatly by the shocking and detailed footage, the serious disciplinary evidence seen and the ultimate finding and sentence. If this happened off a sports field, say on a high street on a Saturday night, I’d expect police to be involved.

Really nasty instances like this happen in amateur sport too and so it is possible to claim in those circumstances too. They can be tough to prove because there is usually no footage of the events and witness evidence can be conflicting. Nevertheless, if something seriously amiss has happened I’d say speak to a lawyer. If there’s an injury and it’s tantamount to an assault, or there is something else unsatisfactory like defective equipment, inept and unsafe refereeing or holes in a pitch then alarm bells should ring and I’d call a lawyer.

Finally I hope we all wish the F1 folk and the people of Bahrain a safe weekend, whatever the politics and issues are. I’m sure some of the concerns raised by the teams will have related to the safety of their staff. Mr Ecclestone is not daft and will have tried to sort out risk assessments and security advice. I hope nothing goes amiss, but if it does there might be all sorts of ramifications.

Sport and the law make a complicated mix. If you’ve been hurt then it’s possible you might have a claim, so feel free to call me and talk it through or contact me through this button:

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Bye for now

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