Smoldon v Whitworth and Nolan: CA 17 Dec 1996

The claimant sued another player and the referee at a colts rugby match in which he was badly injured when the scrum collapsed. The claim against the player was dismissed, but the referee was found liable and he now appealed.
Held: The referee’s appeal failed. The liability of a referee for a sports injury incurred during the course of a match of which he was in charge had to be seen in the light of all circumstances of that case, including the relative inexperience of the players. The threshold of liability must be high. Of the floodgates argument: ‘We do not accept this fear as well-founded. The level of care required is that which is appropriate in all the circumstances, and the circumstances are of crucial importance. Full account must be taken of the factual context in which a referee exercises his functions, and he could not be properly held liable for errors of judgement, oversights or lapses of which any referee might be guilty in the context of a fast-moving and vigorous contest. The threshold of liability is a high one. It will not easily be crossed. There is in our judgment no inconsistency between this conclusion and that reached by the Court of Appeal in Wooldridge v Sumner and Wilks v Cheltenham Homeguard Motor Cycle Co and Light Car Cycle Club. In these cases it was recognised that a sporting competitor, properly intent on winning the contest, was (and was entitled to be) all but oblivious of spectators. It therefore followed that he would have to be shown to have very blatantly disregarded the safety of spectators before he could be held to have failed to exercise such care as was reasonable in all the circumstances.’

Lord Bingham CJ
Times 18-Dec-1996, [1996] EWCA Civ 1225, (1997) ELR 249, [1997] PIQR 133
England and Wales
Appeal fromSmoldon v Whitworth and Another QBD 23-Apr-1996
A claim was brought against a player and a referee in a rugby match when a scrum collapsed. A rugby referee at a colts game has a duty of care to players as regards scrimmaging. . .

Cited by:
CitedRichard Vowles v David Evans, and The Welsh Rugby Union Limited CA 11-Mar-2003
The claimant had been injured in a rugby match, and had recovered damages from the referee, who now appealed.
Held: The relationship was proximate, and the injury reasonably forseeable, and if the referee failed to exercise reasonable care, . .
CitedCaldwell v Maguire and Fitzgerald CA 27-Jun-2001
The claimant, a professional jockey, had been injured when he was unseated as a result of manoeuvres by two fellow jockeys. At trial the judge identified five principles: ‘[1] Each contestant in a lawful sporting contest (and in particular a race) . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Personal Injury

Updated: 23 December 2021; Ref: scu.141093