Was the Rugby Pitch Fit?

Lady Scott’s Opinion in the case of Drummond Cox v Dundee City Council [2014] CSOH 3 was issued on 16 January 2014. Mr Cox, the Pursuer, suffered an injury while taking part in a rugby training course at Panmure Rugby Club, Dundee. The course was part of a junior rugby coaching qualification. It was organised by the Defenders, Dundee City Council, and conducted by their Rugby Development Officer.

The course included outside training on the Club grounds and what were referred to as “dynamic skills exercises”. During one of these exercises the Pursuer, who had the ball, sidestepped to avoid opposing players but in doing so, put his foot on the ground, heard a crack and fell. He had to go off. It was ultimately discovered he had suffered a fracture of the left foot.

The dispute between the parties revolved round the condition of the grounds and the allegation by the Pursuer that the ground was unsuitable for the exercises being carried out.

The Pursuer gave evidence, as did four other members, of the Rugby Club who were on the course along with a witness experienced and qualified in the conduct of risk assessment in rugby training. The Defenders led evidence from two witnesses, being the Rugby Development Officer and a volunteer who was assisting him.

There appears to have been some confusion in the evidence over exactly where the training was taking place and a variation as to whether there was frost all over the Rugby Club ground or only parts of it. It was generally agreed there were “frosty” conditions. The Pursuer’s witnesses, who had the necessary experience to give evidence on the need for and the content of any risk assessment in advance of starting the training session, all agreed, not surprisingly, that a risk assessment was needed and gave evidence generally in agreement as to how the assessment should be carried out.

The critical point in the evidence was agreement that any parts of the training area “which were frozen or uneven and rutted or both then the ground was unsuitable.” Similarly, if it couldn’t “take a stud” it was unsuitable.

Based on this evidence the Pursuer’s contention was that the ground was unsuitable.

Evidence from the Defenders’ witnesses was to the effect that the underfoot conditions were suitable although it was agreed that, if any part of the ground used for training was frozen or uneven or rutted, that would raise the possibility of a risk of injury and was unsuitable for the work being done on the course.

The Development Officer said he had risk assessed the grounds and had identified a particular area as suitable. He had then completed a risk assessment form.

Lady Scott accepted the evidence of the Pursuer and his witnesses as to the suitability of the ground and expressed the view that the Defenders’ evidence was not reliable. The volunteer was in fact a very experienced and highly qualified witness but Lady Scott considered his evidence about this particular day to be vague.

Based on her assessment of the evidence, she found that the conditions presented an obvious risk of injury and the risk assessment was either inaccurately or inadequately conducted. She accordingly found the Defenders liable to the Pursuer for the damages previously agreed.

Although this particular case turned on its own facts, it reinforces, in a sporting context, the need for an appropriate risk assessment of the conditions generally and in this case the underfoot conditions in particular. There is a danger that many sporting organisations may not properly risk assess conditions, leaving themselves open to claims in the event of injury.

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