Court ruling a blow to clubs

A rugby club have been ordered to pay damages to an opposition player after he sustained a fractured eye socket from an off-the-ball punch by one of their forwards.

The decision made by the Court of Appeal could have wide-ranging implications for both professional and semi-professional clubs in rugby league and union.

The case emanated from a National Division Two match in October 2005 when Halifax prop Andrew Gravil was punched off the ball by Redruth second-row forward Richard Carroll and was out of the game for more than six months.

Gravil successfully sued his opponent in March 2006 but lost the case against Redruth when the court decided the club should not be responsible for the actions of their player.

An appeal to the High Court was lost but the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal, who decided Redruth must pay the £8,500 damages originally awarded against Carroll plus interest.

“This is the first time such a senior court has considered such issues,” said Gravil’s solicitor, Oliver Marns, a team-mate who played in the match against Redruth.

“Indeed, one of the judges in this matter was the Master of the Rolls, the second most senior civil judge in the land.”

Marns, a former Super League player with Halifax who is currently part-time with National League club Batley, does not believe the judgement will open the floodgates but says it will serve to ensure that clubs take out relevant insurance policies and could help to eradicate off-the-ball foul play.

“Although the court has held a punch thrown in the circumstances falls within the scope of a rugby player’s employment, the courts are by no means opening the floodgates to claimants,” he said.

“The judgement’s greatest effect may be as a deterrent of foul play conduct since liability attaches to both a player and a club.

“There is now a greater incentive for clubs to ensure that players perform within the sporting code’s playing rules - something sports governing bodies will surely welcome.”