Rugby pitch, Old Malton

When does the rough and tumble of competitive sport become something more?

The High Court in London recently considered a case of “red mist” and “reckless disregard”.  


In 2017, the Claimant, a 28-year-old mother of two, sustained a life-changing spinal injury in her first competitive rugby game.  

The Defendant was the captain of the opposing team. She was noted to have vocalised an intent to see the claimant ‘next Tuesday’. The match was recorded, and the video reflects the Defendant’s aggression culminated in the 66th minute:

At the same time as the Claimant is bending down, the Defendant is coming round the side of what was the ruck with eyes only on the Claimant, she does not wait for the Claimant to pick up the ball, which remains at all times on the ground and never in the Claimant’s possession. Bent over to pick up the ball, the Claimant is in a highly vulnerable position. The Defendant does not compete for the ball, as she would arguably have been entitled to do, but instead goes straight for the Claimant…

The Defendant then puts her whole bodyweight forward and down on the Claimant’s back, parcelling up the Claimant by grasping her thighs just above the knees. The ball is left behind in the same position on the ground…

per Spencer J at [16]

The Claimant suffered a “T11/12 fracture dislocation with a T19 ASIA B spinal cord injury”, leaving her paraplegic and wheelchair dependent. 


The Defendant, without any regard for the well-being or safety of the Claimant and intent only on exacting revenge, executed the “tackle” in a manner which is not recognised in rugby: she drove the Claimant backwards and, importantly, downwards using her full weight and strength to crush the Claimant in a manoeuvre which was obviously dangerous and liable to cause injury

per Spencer J at [58]

The High Court was satisfied that the “tackle” was executed with “reckless disregard for the Claimant’s safety” and that “a risk of injury… was clear and obvious…”.


Sport is not immune from the law of negligence:

The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbour?” receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who then in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question. 

Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 per Lord Atkin at 580

Play the ball…

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