In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Liability of amateur referees - Australia.

A physiotherapist in Australia is suing the New South Wales Rugby Union and a referee for injuries sustained when players ran into her.

Alison Donnan, a physiotherapist with Manly, ran onto the pitch (without being invited on by the referee) to tend an injured player. In the meantime, a free kick was taken, and in the ensuing play, players ran into her and she sustained injuries including three broken vertebrae. She is now suing the NSWRU and the referee for those injuries. You can read more HERE.

The injuries are real, and I have no doubt as debilitating as made out. But the question is, liability for those injuries. As the article makes clear issues of contributory negligence (run into the middle of ongoing play, you take your own chances) and vicarious liability are very much in issue (and given Agar v. Hyde was also an Australian case, it's one whose progress I'll be watching with interest). My interest is piqued not just by this but as much by wondering about whether the Irish legislation, if transposed to Australia, would usefully cover the point.

I wrote about that legislation HERE. Manly and Penrith being (as far as I am aware, and subject to correction) semi-pro, it seems the referee is also amateur (were he an employee of the NSWRU, then then vicarious liability would not be in issue). If similar legislation were in place in Australia, then normal negligence would not be enough to attract liability; it would need gross negligence, a much higher threshold to cross. If not now, it may well be something to which NSW and other Australian states may direct their minds in future.

It's a case that I will return to as it develops, because it could be a very interesting pointer to how liability of referees will develop in the Common Law world.

H/T to for first bringing this to my notice.

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