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An interesting issue came up today when a client asked about the public liability of a school or sports association that sanctions or allows overage players to participate in sports with younger athletes:

If a school sports association sanctions or allows overage players to take the field of play and those players injure other players, are they liable?

In general, an occupier such as a school or sports association has a duty of care to the young athletes under their facility, rules and supervision. The school or sports association must ensure that safeguards and policies are implemented to prevent or mitigate any harm to a reasonable standard.

So when it comes to the issue of sports, it is important to have an understanding of the policies that the school or sports league has implemented for their athletes. The school or sports association will have been deemed to breach their duty of care if they have failed to adhere to a reasonable standard of care to prevent an accident and injury from occurring on their premises or under their supervision. Depending on the circumstances, the policies and precautions being imposed may not be sufficient to protect your children. Considerations should also be made for the type of sport being played as well. A sport such as rugby may require a completely different set of safety measures than another sport such as Oz Tag.

However, allowing overage players to compete against younger players does not automatically hold the school or association liable for negligence. There are a number of defences that may be relied on. The most common defences are:

Voluntary Assumption of Risk: If the plaintiff knows of and voluntarily accepts a risk of injury as a result of the defendant’s negligence then this becomes a complete defence.

It must be established that the plaintiff not only knew of the risk, but also fully comprehended the nature and extent of the risk and accepted the whole risk without any compulsion.

Inherent Risks: If the risk was something that occurred which could not be avoided by the exercise of reasonable care and skill then this is also a complete defence. However, this does not excuse the defendant from their duty to warn about the risk.

Dangerous Recreational Activity: This defence is a complete defence that is available if an activity is considered to have a significant degree of risk of suffering physical harm (i.e. being a dangerous recreational activity.) You must prove that the accident and injury was caused by a materialisation of an obvious inherent risk within that activity. This defence applies whether or not the plaintiff suffering harm was aware of the risk.

So when it comes to the school or association allowing overage players, there are a number of factors to consider:

  • What is the nature of the sport?
  • Is there an age limitation that is strictly adhered to? For example, do their policies regularly separate players by age and did they fail to follow their own policy without considering the size or strength difference between the players?
  • If there is no age separation in the league, are the athletes adequately informed of all of the risks associated with the activity and have accepted that risk?
  • Did the referees, coaches and other supervisory staff have the necessary training and credentials to handle the sporting activity? If so, did the respond to a reasonable standard to prevent injury and harm from happening?
  • Are there any defects in the equipment, or has the facilities been properly maintained?

It is important to speak with a personal injury lawyer if you or your child has been injured in a sporting activity. There are many specific issues to consider when determining whether or not you have a valid claim. Failing to understand and apply the law properly may adversely affect your legal right to compensation.

For more information on how you may be able to protect your legal rights from a sports association or school injury involving a sporting activity, contact East Coast Injury Lawyers at 1300 720 544 or email us at info@eastcoastinjurylawyers.com.au .