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Sports Law

Listen to what a personal injury lawyer has to say

(Mary Ann Dove, from PSP in conversation with Tzvi Brivik, from Malcolm Lyons & Brivik Inc.)

On 4th May 2011 in the Western Cape High Court a landmark judgement was handed down by Judge Burton Fourie when he determined that a high school rugby player (the plaintiff, now 25) was deliberately injured by an opposing player (the defendant) during a school rugby match in 2005. His judgement was based on a wide range of evidence from experts and other witnesses. In making this judgement, Judge Fourie needed to satisfy himself that the following 3 factors had been proved on a balance of probabilities:

· There was intent to cause harm,

· The act was malicious, and

· The defendant knowingly contravened the rules of the game

In light of this judgement, I interviewed Tzvi Brivik, a personal injury lawyer from the firm Malcolm Lyons & Brivik Inc. to further understand the implications that this judgement could have for organisations (schools, clubs, federations etc.) involved in providing and arranging sporting events for young players. I was particularly interested in understanding the precautions organisations should be taking to ensure that they are covered in terms of participants sustaining injures whilst participating in sport under the particular organisation’s auspices. In addition, from a parental perspective I was keen to get to grips with the sort of questions we should be asking of these organisations before we “hand our children” over to their care.

Listen to what our expert had to say.

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Key points arising from this discussion were:

· Organisations should ensure that they have sufficient public liability insurance and that the indemnities that they get parents to sign at the beginning of the school year or prior to specific events cover all eventualities. Following the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act on 1 April 2011, organisations may need to review their indemnities.

· Sporting organisations and schools need to have all the necessary protective equipment for the particular sports that they offer.

· All necessary precautions must be taken to ensure that no harm comes to any child participating in the sporting activities. This would include understanding of the rules and sufficient training and coaching of all stakeholders – players, coaches (professional, part-time, contract, volunteers), umpires and referees.

· This judgement is not likely to open a “flood gate” of litigations as in each case all 3 of the factors cited in the judgement would need to be proved on a balance of probabilities.

· The role of the referee/umpire is vital in maintaining control of a particular game and thus it might be unwise to get an untrained volunteer (however willing) to stand in at short notice.

· All participants must be fully aware of all the rules of the sport at all times particularly as the rules evolve over time.

· Parents should obtain a good understanding of the coaching process at the organisation, the emergency procedures in place, the learning of the rules and where overall control of sport lies.

· There has been a recent case in the USA involving American Football where the school and coach were held accountable for an injury to a player when the rules were not followed.

· Parents should set the example for their children as to how to “play the game by the rules”.

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