West Law Report

Rugby club liable for player’s assault

Posted in Times Law Report by mrkooenglish on July 22, 2008

From The TimesJuly 22, 2008

Rugby club liable for player’s assault
Court of Appeal

Published July 22, 2008

Gravil v Carroll and Another

Before Sir Anthony Clarke Master of the Rolls, Lady Justice Smith and Lord Justice Richards

Judgment June 18, 2008

A rugby club was vicariously liable for an assault by one of its semi-professional players on a member of the opposing team during a match.

The Court of Appeal so held, allowing the appeal of the claimant, Andrew Gravil, against the dismissal by Mr Justice Gray, sitting at the Bristol District Registry of the Queen’s Bench Division ([2007] EWHC 3453), of his appeal against the decision of Judge Harington in Bristol County Court on March 6, 2007, that the second defendant, Redruth Rugby Football Club, was not vicariously liable for the injury suffered by the claimant as a result of an assault by the first defendant, Richard Carroll.

Mr Martin Seaward for Mr Gravil; Mr Richard Stead for Redruth RFC.

THE MASTER OF THE ROLLS, giving the judgment of the court, said that on October 29, 2005, the first defendant punched the claimant in the course of rugby union match between Halifax and Redruth.

At the start of the second half, following a scrum, an altercation developed involving the claimant and two Redruth players. At that point the first defendant threw a punch which struck the claimant and caused him to suffer a fracture which required reconstructive orbital surgery.

The first defendant had a contract with the club, by which it employed him to play rugby for it and, while he was doing so, he was subject to certain express obligations. That was so, even though he was only a part-time rugby player with other full-time employment. Both the claimant and the first defendant received a fee from their clubs and were therefore semi-professional.

Redruth RFC provided rugby for the local community; it made no profit and it provided its players with a contract of employment to avoid losing them. It was only about ten years ago that such clubs began to employ their players. No question of vicarious liability on the part of such clubs could have arisen until then.

The critical factor was the fact that the first defendant was employed by the club. The question for the court was whether the club was vicariously liable to the claimant for the consequences of the first defendant’s tort, in punching him in the face and causing him injury.

An employer was vicariously liable for the torts of his employees committed in the course of their employment. Where the wrongful conduct could fairly and properly be regarded as done while acting in the ordinary course of the employee’s employment it would ordinarily be fair and just to hold the employer liable.

There was a close connection between the punch and the first defendant’s employment. He was employed to play rugby and that was what he was doing at the time. There was a melée going on of the kind which frequently took place during rugby matches. The melée was part of the game. It was just the kind of thing that both clubs would have expected to occur. Unfortunately the throwing of punches was not uncommon in such situations. The first defendant was acting in the course of his employment when he punched the claimant.

Solicitors: Cramer Richards, Leeds; CIP Solicitors, Bristol.

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