For example, in the recent case of Ma Yong Mei v Cheng Muk Lam  HKEC 2580, the plaintiff sued his co-player for negligence when the defendant inadvertently extended his hand over the net and hit the plaintiff’s eye during a water volleyball game. The defendant denied liability and argued that jumping to reach the ball and attempting to hit it over the net is part and parcel of the game of volleyball. In examining a duty of care owed by co-players, the Court referred to Blake v Galloway  1 WLR 2844, which Dyson LJ said that
“… participants in sport games generally owe each other a duty of care …, and that the threshold for liability ishigh. …. there will be no liability for errors of judgement, oversights or lapses of which any participant might be guilty in the context of a fast-moving contest. Something more serious is required.” (emphasis added)
The Court also followed Woolridge v Summer & another  2 QB 43 and held that to determine if a co-player might be found liable, the judge must be satisfied that the co-player’s conduct is recklessly disregarding the other’s safety. In Ma Yong Mei, the Court found that the defendant did not act recklessly and it was at most an error of judgement or lapse of skill on the defendant’s part. Therefore, the defendant is not liable.
Further, organisers should ensure that the venue is properly maintained, otherwise, it may be sued for (a) negligence and/or (b) breach of the occupier’s liability pursuant to Occupiers’ Liability Ordinance (Cap 314). Although organizers may not be venue owners, they would have control over premises and hence owe a duty of care to all lawful visitors of the premises. Sport venues should be properly constructed, maintained and repaired to ensure they are suitable for games or competitions.
Other potential defendants
In rare occasions, referees may be sued for failing to enforce the rules of a game to protect players (such as in the case of Vowles v Evans  EWHC 2612 (QB)). In that case, a prop forward (a player) left the rugby game and the referee, in breach of the rules, allowed a flanker to take his place but the scrum collapsed, causing serious injury to the neck of the plaintiff who has become wheelchair bound. The Court held that some rules are designed to minimise the risk of the game and it is for the referees to enforce them with reasonable care to ensure the safety of players. Therefore, the referee was found negligent.
In some professional competitions, sport clubs are usually covered by insurance, and claims against sport clubs for vicarious liability of the negligent acts of their employees have been made. In the case of Benjamin Collett v Gary Smith, Middlesbrough Football and Athletics Company (1986) Ltd EWHC 1962 (QB), the defendant football player was sued in negligence for tackling too high causing fracture to the tibia and fibula of the plaintiff. The sport club of the defendant, Middlesbrough FC, was held vicariously liable.
The law and procedure on this subject are very specialized and complicated. This article is just a very general outline for reference and cannot be relied upon as legal advice in any individual case. If any advice or assistance is needed, please contact our solicitors.
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Published by ONC Lawyers © 2016