Assault on sporting field not fair game

By Andrew Goode

There have been a number of media reports recently about vicious assaults outside licensed premises resulting in serious injuries, even death.

Assaults, some serious, also happen on the sporting field.

Some people think you can get away with assaulting an opposition player on the football field or in other sporting activities, even though that assault may seriously injure the other player. But an assault on the football field can constitute a criminal offence.

In a leading legal text it was noted that the attitude of players, participants and others seem to be summed up by an attitude that "what happens on the field, stays on the field".

The fact is that playing a sport, whether it is football, or another sport, does not give a player the right to deliberately harm someone else.

While I think it is fair to say that everyone understands the risk of an injury when they play their favourite sport, and that they ought not to be entitled to compensation if injured, there is a line that can be crossed where, pardon my pun, ‘it is not cricket’.

I think any coach who encourages players to rough up the opposition by saying "play the man, not the ball", or even worse, tells them to take a player out of the game, runs a real risk of being liable to pay for substantial damages to an injured player. The player who followed this direction would be in the firing line too.

In one case where a coach encouraged his players to behave aggressively, and which resulted in an injury to an opposition player, the coach was held personally liable for damages.

Where a player deliberately hit another player during the course of a football game a judge held the blow was intentional, and outside the rules of the game, and awarded damages.

In another decision, again involving football, where the defendant failed to keep his elbow down causing injury to the other player, in contravention of the rules, the Court found his actions were intended to cause harm to the plaintiff.

That is not to say that if you elbow another player you will necessarily be at risk of being held liable for damages. It depends on the circumstances, and an accidental elbowing will not result in liability for damages. Inadvertent injury is part of the rigorous way in which football and other sports are played. And most footy fans like the "rough and tumble" of the game, and its intensity.

We do not want teams lining up with lawyers on hand at every match! But having said that a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

Where a player is found to have deliberately injured another player, he or she will be liable for damages to the other player for pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of income and the usual compensatory damages.

In one reported case an injured player also obtained exemplary damages, which is an award of damages intended by the Courts to make an "example" of the player, and provide some general deterrent.

In reviewing cases for this article, there were even a few cases involving golfers. Not for assault I should add, but for injuries caused by negligence.

My tip for golfers – if you are waiting to tee off, make sure the players have clearly left the green, or are out of range on the fairway, so there is no chance of hitting them with the best drive you have ever done. People suffer serious injuries from golf balls, and the calling of "fore" will not necessarily let you off the hook in those circumstances. And more importantly, you may kill someone or leave them with a serious brain injury.

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