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The Application of ‘Volenti Non-Fit Injuria' in the Context of Sports

Written by Shubham Ranjan [i] and Shravan Subramanian [ii]

[i][ii] Fourth Year, BA. LLB. Jindal Global Law School




Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.


Introduction

Volenti Non- Fit Injuria (“To a willing person, injury is not done”) in simple layman English means consenting to a risk knowing well the consequences of the risk that is being consented to. It is a very common defense used in the field of torts. Three important conditions that need to be taken into consideration are, the first being the claimant must be fully aware of all the risks involved in the act that is taking place. The second important condition being the claimant has to give consent either by a statement or by his or her actions. The consent must be free which means that it is without undue influence or by coercion by the defendant on the claimant. One more very important condition is that mere knowledge is not sufficient. There is another very important maxim linked to this, i.e., “Sciens non est volens” which means “Knowledge is not volunteering”. [1]


There are many exceptions for VNFI cases as well, most of them being rescue cases. Rescue cases can be explained by the simple example of the case of Haynes v. Harwood[2]. In this case, the plaintiff who was a police constable was on duty inside a police station on a street that was heavily crowded. Seeing a horse (owned by the defendant) rushing down the crowd, he ran to stop the horse. He was able to stop the horse but was damaged significantly in the process, for which he claimed damages. It was held that VNFI did not stand in this case and therefore did not give any damages to the plaintiff. The reasoning behind this was that the police are under a general duty to intervene to protect life and property, the act of, and injuries to, the plaintiff were the natural probable consequences of the defendant’s negligence. [3]

The Relation between Sports and VNFI

For a very long time, there have been many acts in sports that could be termed as violent.

There are many sports around the world that not only pose as damage to the players playing but the spectators as well. According to tort law, if a party owes a duty of care towards another party and that duty is breached then the party which was supposed to show care will be liable for damages.

Thinking from the player’s perspective, the player taking part in any sport has consented to any risk or injury which may happen in the usual course of the game and will not be able to claim any damages. On the other hand, if there are any damages outside the usual course of the game, then the player who has suffered damages has the right to file a suit against the party that has caused the injury. For example – In a hypothetical situation, during a football match if a player who is involved in a heated argument pulls out a knife to hurt the referee. In this case, the referee has the right to file a claim for damages against the player. The player cannot use the argument that the referee had consented to such a risk as this was clearly outside the usual course of the game.


Two cases which lay down the application of VNFI from the player’s perspective are:


1) Catfest V. Tombleson (2003)


Facts – The plaintiff fell and broke her right wrist while she was skating at the defendant’s roller skating rink. She was an active sportswoman and had previous experience of ice skating but had never tried roller skating. The plaintiff went and told one of the employees about her apprehension and she was assured by the employee that she would be fine. The plaintiff had the option to enter a beginner’s rink but she ignored this. As she was skating, her feet went under her and she fell backward fracturing her wrist. There was a sign at the entrance that said “All care. No responsibility”. There were more signs that said protective equipment is suggested. The plaintiff gave enough evidence that she had not seen any of these signs and said that she knew that there were wrist guards available then she would have used them.


Trial – The judge found in the favour of the plaintiff and awarded damages of $350,000. The judge said that it was the duty of the defendant to provide all the necessary equipment and also said that the wrist guards should have been kept in plain sight and not under some counter.


Appeal- The decision of the trial judge was overturned by the Court of Appeal. [4]

This case displays how VNFI was successfully used by the defendant. The court declared that the plaintiff had accepted the risk and she had accepted a known risk associated with the game.

Now to show the other side of the ball game where VNFI was used unsuccessfully.


2) Condon V. Basi


Facts- The claimant suffered a broken leg during a tackle from the defendant during a football match. The claimant was representing whittle wanders and the defendant was representing Khalso FC, both these teams were in the Leamington league.

Decision- The court held that the defence of VNFI would be unsuccessful as every player is under a duty to take reasonable care towards the other players on the field. Thus the defendant can be sued for the injuries caused to the plaintiff. [5]

This case shows how VNFI was unsuccessfully used.


Another major aspect of VNFI comes when you start to think from the point of view of the spectators as well. The following two cases will clearly show this point of view as well.


1) Wooldridge V. Sumner


Facts- Mr. Wooldridge(Plaintiff) was a photographer who had come to capture a horse race. As he was shooting the race, a horse belonging to Sumner(Defendant) was being ridden by Ron Holladay. As he was taking pictures of the race, the rider lost control of the horse and went on to hit Mr. Wooldridge. He was significantly damaged physically and thus sued Sumner for damages.


Decision- The court ruled against Mr. Wooldridge. The court said that Sumner owed no duty of care towards Wooldridge. The horseman was expected to concentrate on the race and not on the spectators. As long as the damage was not done deliberately, the rider could not be held liable. Mr. Wooldridge had accepted the risks involved when he came to watch the race. VNFI was successful. [6]

2) Payne V. Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd


Facts- Plaintiff was a season ticket holder who came regularly to watch the hockey games. While watching one of the games, the stick of a player which was grappling in front of him, hit him in the face.


Decision- The court held that it was against the limited course of the sport. The plaintiff had not consented to such a risk, on the other hand, if he had been hit by a puck it would have been a completely different case. The court held that the defence of VNFI would be unsuccessful and the defendant would be liable to pay damages to the plaintiff. [7]


The third types of cases are where the organizers of any sporting event are also held liable.


1) White V. Blackmore


Facts- Mr. White was killed at a Jalopy car race due to the negligent construction of the safety ropes near the stands. One of the cars taking part in the race crashed about 1/3rd of a mile from where the plaintiff was standing. Due to the crash of the car, he was thrown 20 feet into the air and this caused him severe injuries due to which he died. Mr. White along with his family had signed an exclusion clause and there was also a sign at the entry saying that Jalopy racing was dangerous and that the organizers accept no liability for an injury howsoever caused. After the accident occurred, his wife brought an action against the organizers of this racing event saying that Mr. White had only consented to the risk of Jalopy racing and not the negligent construction of the ropes. The defence of VNFI was unsuccessful. The defendant was compelled by the court to pay damages to the plaintiff. [8]


Conclusion


We personally feel that the defense of VNFI is a very tricky one. In authors' opinion, if due to the negligence of the organizers, one of the spectators gets an injury , then the organizers should be the one paying the damages. For example – In a bull fighting competition (very popular sport in Spain), the organizers need to reinforce the walls around the ground so that even if one of the bulls goes wild and hits the wall, no spectator gets hurt. In a hypothetical scenario, if the spectator gets hurt due to the negligence of the organizer, then we feel the damage should be paid by the authorities organizing the event. Even though the viewer has consented to the risk of watching the sport, the organizer has to show basic duty of care and make sure there are basic provisions of safety. On the other hand, the spectators should be willing to face small amounts of damages for which the organizer will not be liable. For example- if a small piece of debris from the ground hits the spectator in the face, this is something that the organizer should not be responsible for. These are things that the organizer cannot foresee , thus the organizer should not be held liable.


Now to think of VNFI from the players perspective, a player that has signed up to play any sport does not have the right to sue for an injury caused to him, that is in the natural course of the sport. On the other hand, if an injury occurs that is not in the regular course of the sport, then the player has the right to sue for damages. For example- A football player during the course of the game cannot sue another player for tackling him which may lead to some sort of injury. The other side of the argument being the football player can sue another player for punching him as this is outside the course of the game. The football player had not consented to such a risk when he had signed the contract to play the game.


Now coming to think of VNFI from the perspective of the spectator, this is probably one of the most important aspects of VNFI.

In the authors' opinion, anything apart from the natural course of the game the spectator has the right to sue.

For example- a cricketer hits the ball for a six and by chance the ball lands on the head of a spectator. The spectator is severely injured and requires medical attention. In this case, the spectator does not have the right to sue the cricketer as he consented to such a risk when he bought the ticket for the match. In a separate case, if there is some sort of negligence on part of the player which in turn causes damage to one of the spectators, then in such a case, the spectator has the right to sue the player if and only if the damage is not in the natural course of the game.

On a whole, we feel that there are some aspects of VNFI that need to be modified for better functioning of the maxim.


[1]A Sivakumar, The Lex-Warrier Article Archive Lex-warrier.in (2015), http://lex-warrier.in/2015/03/volenti-non-fit-injuria/

[2] Haynes V Harwood, 1 KB 146 (1935). [3]Ibid [4] G O'Neil, Roller skating at your own risk Findlaw.com.au (2003), https://www.findlaw.com.au/articles/1808/roller-skating-at-your-own-risk.aspx. [5] Condon V Basi, 2 A11 ER 453 (1985). [6] Wooldridge V Sumner , 2 A11 ER 978 (1962)

[7] Drimer A & Lucibello S, Spectator Liability in Canada: An Overview - McCague Borlack LLP Mccagueborlack.com (2011), https://mccagueborlack.com/emails/articles/spectator_liability.html.

[8] White V Blackmore, 3 WLR 296 (1972)


BIBLIOGRAPHY


1) Haynes V Harwood [1935] Court Of Appeal Of England and Wales, 1 KB 146 (Court Of Appeal Of England and Wales)

2) O'Neil G, 'Roller Skating At Your Own Risk' (Findlaw.com.au, 2003) https://www.findlaw.com.au/articles/1808/roller-skating-at-your-own-risk.aspx

3) Condon V Basi [1985] CA, 2 A11 ER 453 (CA)

4) Wooldridge V Sumner [1962] CA, 2 A11 ER 978 (CA)

5) Drimer A and Lucibello S, 'Spectator Liability In Canada: An Overview - Mccague Borlack LLP' (Mccagueborlack.com, 2011) https://mccagueborlack.com/emails/articles/spectator_liability.html

6) White V Blackmore [1972] Court Of Appeal, 3 WLR 296 (Court Of Appeal)

7) Sivakumar A, 'Volenti Non Fit Injuria' (The Lex-Warrier, 2015)

http://lex-warrier.in/2015/03/volenti-non-fit-injuria/

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