Rootes v Shelton: 1965

(High Court of Australia) Barwick CJ said: ‘By engaging in a sport or pastime the participants may be held to have accepted risks which are inherent in that sport or pastime: the tribunal of fact can make its own assessment of what the accepted risks are: but this does not eliminate all duty of care of the one participant to the other. Whether or not such a duty arises, and, if it does, its extent, must necessarily depend in each case upon its own circumstances. In this connection, the rules of the sport or game may constitute one of those circumstances: but, in my opinion, they are neither definitive of the existence nor of the extent of the duty; nor does their breach or non-observance necessarily constitute a breach of any duty found to exist.’
Kitto J said: ‘in a case such as the present, it must always be a question of fact, what exoneration from a duty of care otherwise incumbent upon the defendant was implied by the act of the plaintiff in joining in the activity. Unless the activity partakes of the nature of a war or of something else in which all is notoriously fair, the conclusion to be reached must necessarily depend, according to the concepts of common law, upon the reasonableness, in relation to the special circumstances, of the conduct which caused the plaintiff’s injury. That does not necessarily mean the compliance of that conduct with the rules, conventions or customs (if there are any) by which the correctness of conduct for the purpose of the carrying on of the activity as an organised affair is judged; for the tribunal of fact may think that in the situation in which the plaintiff’s injury was caused a participant might do what the defendant did and still not be acting unreasonably, even though he infringed the ‘rules of the game’. Non-compliance with such rules, conventions or customs (where they exist) is necessarily one consideration to be attended to upon the question of reasonableness; but it is only one, and it may be of much or little or even no weight in the circumstances.’


Barwick CJ, Kitto J


(1968) ALR 33, (1967) 116 CLR 383

Cited by:

ApprovedCondon v Basi CA 30-Apr-1985
The parties were playing football. The defendant executed a late dangerous and foul tackle on the plaintiff breaking his leg. The defendant was sent off, and the plaintiff sued.
Held: Those taking part in competitive sport still owed a duty of . .
CitedBlake v Galloway CA 25-Jun-2004
The claimant was injured whilst playing about with other members of his band throwing sticks at each other. The defendant appealed against a denial of his defence on non fit injuria.
Held: The horseplay in which the five youths were engaged . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Negligence, Commonwealth

Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.194827