Liability for injury in sport
The facts of this matter were briefly that on the 30th of July 2005 the Under-19 A-teams of Labori High School and Stellenbosch High School played a rugby match against each other in Stellenbosch. Ryand Karel Hattingh was the hooker for the Labori team and Alex Roux was the hooker for the Stellenbosch team. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes into the match a scrum took place in which Ryand seriously injured his neck. It was alleged that the injury was caused by an illegal and highly dangerous manoeuvre executed in the scrum by Alex.
The manoeuvre referred to above is called the “jack-knife” and takes place immediately before the engagement of the two front rows. The player executing the manoeuvre forcefully places his head in the incorrect channel or gap, forcing the other player to put his head into another gap. This manoeuvre will lead to the situation where two players of the same team have their head next to each other instead of between two of the other team's players.
Well known experts such as Mr Balie Swart, Mr Andre Watson and Mr Matthew Proudfoot testified in this matter. They were, however, not present at the match and their findings were based on the photographs and video taken during the match.
The court considered all the evidence before it and took into account the expert evidence and came to the conclusion that Alex had indeed performed the illegal and highly dangerous manoeuvre which caused the serious neck injury to Ryand.The court made this decision based on amongst others the following facts:
- from the photo’s it was clear that Ryand was unable to place his head in his designated channel or gap.
- Alex’s head was not visible on one of the photo’s whereas had his head been in his correct channel at the time of the engagement, it should have been visible;
- another photo showed that prior to the engagement Alex released his grip on the player to his left and moved his left hand and arm upwards along the left side of his team mate, thereby shifting his position.
The court stated that liability for injury in sport must be judged in the light of the reasonableness of the conduct of the defendant in the context of the playing culture of the sport in question which in turn is determined with reference to conduct normally associated with, or reasonably occurring during, the practice of that sport. Thus if an injury results from conduct that, although technically forbidden, occurs normally in that sport, it is to be regarded as lawful, but if injury results from a serious or dangerous transgression not normally associated with the sport, it is to be regarded as unlawful and therefore actionable.
The conduct which Alex was found to have been guilty of, was illegal and highly dangerous and did not occur normally in that sport. The court therefore held that Alex was liable to compensate Ryand and his father for any damages they could prove they suffered as a result of the injury.