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THOMAS EDWARD BARTLETT v ENGLISH CRICKET BOARD ASSOCIATION OF CRICKET OFFICIALS (2015)

CC (Wolverhampton) (Judge Lopez) 27/08/2015

NEGLIGENCE - SPORT - PERSONAL INJURY

BREACH OF DUTY OF CARE : CRICKET : DUTY OF CARE : GROUND CONDITIONS : PERSONAL INJURY : UMPIRES

Cricket umpires had not been negligent in allowing a match to proceed despite earlier rainfall which had affected the ground's condition. They had carried out a thorough and careful ground inspection, with the players' safety a primary consideration. A player's subsequent injury had been caused by his incorrect use of a fielding technique, not the ground's condition.

A cricket player claimed damages against the association representing cricket umpires for personal injuries sustained in an accident during a match.


The player was captain of a cricket team. He had decided to call off the match because of heavy rainfall which he considered had made the pitch unsafe. The opposing team captain insisted that the match umpires inspect the ground in accordance with the Laws of Cricket. The umpires considered that it was not dangerous or unreasonable for play to take place. During the match, the player used a "sliding stop" technique which involved extending one leg while in a crouching position. When using that technique, it was necessary to extend the leg on the same side as the hand used to catch the ball in order to protect the knee. After performing the sliding stop, the player felt excruciating pain in his left leg and collapsed. He was found to have suffered a soft tissue injury requiring the use of a knee brace for eight weeks. The player held the umpires responsible for his injury by allowing play when the pitch was unfit. The association relied on volenti non fit injuria in that the player had chosen to play and to undertake the sliding stop on a ground he considered to be unsafe. According to the letter before action and the player's initial statement, he had led with his left leg when carrying out the sliding stop procedure. However, at trial he testified that those documents were incorrect and he had in fact led with his right leg.

HELD:

(1) It was an established principle that referees owed a duty of care to players to enforce the rules of the sport in question so as to minimise the inherent dangers of injury engendered by participation. Accordingly, cricket umpires owed a duty of care to the players involved in the game over which they officiated (see paras 184-185 of judgment).

(2) Although a referee in a fast-moving game could not reasonably be expected to avoid errors of judgement, the umpires had had all the time they needed to reach a considered decision and had not been required to make a difficult assessment within seconds, Smoldon v Whitworth [1997] E.L.R. 249 followed. Therefore, whilst the threshold of liability in umpiring decisions in the course of a game was high, that threshold was lower in the circumstances of the instant case (paras 67, 187-190).

(3) Although the Laws of Cricket did not define what was "dangerous or unreasonable", it was common sense that it would be dangerous and unreasonable to allow play to proceed if the umpires considered the prevailing conditions were such that there was an obvious and foreseeable risk to the safety of the players. However, the fact that grass in a cricket ground was wet and slippery did not mean that the ground conditions were dangerous, as a match could be played safely even when conditions were not ideal. In accordance with Law 3.9 as it applied at the time, the umpires were entitled to conclude that it was unreasonable for play to take place if the ground was so wet or slippery as to deprive the fielders of the power of free movement around the pitch. The umpires had made a detailed assessment of the conditions and were in the best position, as compared to those who had carried out a more cursory appraisal, accurately to determine whether it was safe to play. Before making that decision, they had taken into account the teams' representations and had carried out a thorough and careful inspection. The players' safety had been a primary consideration in their decision-making process. Accordingly, the association was not in breach of its duty of care owed to the player and the other players (paras 191-194, 206, 210-213, 224).

(4) The player's evidence in the letter before action and statement was to be preferred to that given at trial. Accordingly, the player, who was right-handed, had carried out the sliding stop incorrectly by leading with his left leg instead of his right. That incorrect use of the technique had caused the injury to his knee in a manner that was a well known risk of the procedure being carried out incorrectly. In any event, the condition of the ground was not the cause or a material contributing factor of the player's injury (paras 227-232).Judgment for defendant