When earlier this month Fremantle’s Dean Solomon careered into Geelong’s Cameron Ling and broke Ling’s cheekbone, Solomon copped an eight- week suspension, Ling went to hospital and that was that. But why shouldn’t the Fremantle Football Club have to compensate Ling for the cost of his no doubt extensive medical treatment and potential long term pain and suffering he will endure as a result of the sickening blow delivered by Solomon?
And if the Swans allow Barry Hall to play again and he decks another player causing serious injury, will Sydney Swans FC itself be liable for Hall’s wrongdoing?
The answer to both questions is probably yes, according the English Court of Appeal. In a decision handed down last month. The Court of Appeal has ruled that Redruth rugby club is liable to pay £8,500 for the injuries which occurred when Richard Carroll, one of their players, swung a punch during an on-field brawl in a 2005 game, hitting Andrew Gravil, an opposition player, which resulted in Gravil sustaining a blow-out fracture of the right eye socket.
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Carroll, like other semi-professional and professional footballers these days, had a contract of employment with Redruth Rugby Club and the Court of Appeal found that because Carroll was in the course of his employment when he hit Gravil the club could be held vicariously liable for Gravil’s injuries.
“There was in our opinion a very close connection between the punch and the first defendant’s employment. He was employed to play rugby for the club and was doing so at the time as a second-row forward … The melée was just the kind of thing that both clubs would have expected to occur. Regrettably the throwing of punches is not uncommon in situations like this, when the scrum is breaking up after the whistle has gone,” the Court of Appeal said.
And the Court of Appeal has this warning for football clubs:
It is now recognised that it is possible to be very seriously injured as a result of foul play during a rugby match. It is incumbent on both players and clubs to take all reasonable steps to eradicate, or at least minimise, the risk of foul play which might cause injury. As we see it, this involves clubs taking proactive steps to stamp it out.
So what does Andrew Gravil’s win in the UK Court of Appeal mean for AFL and, for that matter, NRL, ARU and professional Rugby clubs in Australia? Well, it certainly opens the possibility for players in the position of Cameron Ling to sue not only their opponents, but also the club that employs their opponent.
And it could mean that if football clubs knowingly allow a contracted player who has a track record of foul play to take the field week after week, the club runs a real risk of being sued if that player hits someone and causes injury. Maybe that’s why Sydney took the unusual step, criticised by some commentators, of seeking the independent assessment of a psychologist before allowing Barry Hall to play again. If Hall does strike someone again, with serious consequences, Sydney will seek to escape liability by arguing it put in place proactive steps to stamp out foul play.