Negligence and Sport

Can the participants in a sport be held liable for negligent acts which they commit while playing the sport?

Many injuries occur to participants while playing sport and often this is seen as an accepted part of participating in the sport. There are however certain injures that occur which simply cannot be considered as part and parcel of the game. In certain instances the law can intervene finding certain actions as illegal.

Often criminal cases can be brought when a dangerous tackle for example in a football match or a punch thrown in a sporting contest can result in an assault. In this instance there can also be a civil claim for the tort of an offence against the person. Injuries such as this are often caused by a deliberate act such as a foul whereby the participant intended to injure another. This article will look at the situation where the act may have not been deliberate but instead was caused by a negligent act of another participant.


What is negligence? 

The tort of negligence is probably the most famous tort and can be found in such areas as the driving of automobiles to the administering of medical practices and is often extended to cover the sporting arena.  For a claim of negligence to be found in these areas the following thus needs to be established:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach
  • That the breach of the duty of care caused the damage or injury to the victim

Duty of Care

For any claim of negligence to be actionable the first thing to establish is whether a duty of care existed between the two individuals involved in the claim.

How do we establish a duty of care in the sporting context?

From the early cases on negligence in sport the following points should be noted:

  • That each participant in a lawful sporting contest owes every other participant in that contest a duty of care
  • That the duty is to exercise all care that is objectively reasonable in the prevailing circumstances in order to avoid injury to such co-participants

What is meant by the prevailing circumstances?

The prevailing circumstances have been defined as the following: 

  • The prevailing circumstances must include the object of the sport, the demand made upon the contestants, the inherent dangers, its rules, conventions and customs and the standards, skills and judgments reasonably to be expected of the participants


How do we establish breach of the duty of care?  

Once a duty of care has been established in order to find liability it must be shown that the duty of care has been breached taking into account the prevailing circumstances of that particular sport.  

Two tests in order to establish liability have thus been established. They are as follows:           

  1. Reckless disregard
  2. Playing Culture of the Sport

Reckless Disregard

The standard of care to establish negligence in the sporting arena was previously said to the reckless disregard of safety test. Accordingly the following points must be noted from the decisions concerning reckless disregard: 

  • That the threshold for liability would be high and that proof of a mere error of judgment or a lapse of skill would not be sufficient to establish a breach of the duty  
  • In practice it may be difficult to prove a breach of duty unless there is proof of conduct amounting to reckless disregard for a co-participants safety

Unlock this article now!


For more information on:

  • An example of reckless disregard
  • Playing Culture of the Sport
  • What needs to be established for this test?
  • Causation