In any contact sport the risk of injury is inevitable. Whilst the majority of injuries tend to be minor, there are cases in which participants can suffer career-threatening and catastrophic injuries, leading to long-term effects and even fatality.
Over the last five years, the number of personal injury claims arising from dangerous tackles on the field has risen dramatically. These cases have received considerable press in the UK and have mainly concerned professional footballers, for example the case of Nottingham Forest striker Dexter Blackstock seeking compensation from former Cardiff City defender Seyi Olofinjana, over a "negligent" tackle. The event occurred in November 2010 and left Blackstock side-lined for fifteen months with a horrific knee injury.
Recently, the footballer issued an action for damages in the High Court due to being deprived of the chance to earn bonuses, as well as for compensation. The amount has not been disclosed in the writ, but is thought to exceed £50,000.
Mr Blackstock's barrister, Jonathan Crystal, stated that Olofinjana "raised his foot" and "played Mr Blackstock rather than the ball" which then led to him "failing to control his momentum". He added: "[t]he medical reports detail a significant chance that at some point in the future Mr Blackstock's knee will deteriorate further or he will suffer a more complicated injury as a result of the existing condition."
Olofinjana denies the charges, as do his former club Cardiff City. The case has yet to be tested in evidence before a judge, but could potentially set a precedent for the future.
These cases are few and far between, but they certainly question whether the industry could see big money pay-outs for dangerous and career-threatening tackles in the future. Football spectators do expect to see a fast-paced and physical game, but it can be hard to determine whether a challenge is pre-meditated or a legitimate accident. This creates a level of difficulty in deciding whether matters should be taken to a judge.
A similar legal case is that of Sean Highdale, a professional footballer for Liverpool U18s, who suffered career ending injuries due to a road traffic accident. A successful settlement was reached in which colleagues including Stephen Gerrard gave evidence of his potential, though obviously no money could make up for the death of his two friends and the loss of his promising career.
The case of Dexter Blackstock wouldn't set a trend for claims on controversial challenges, meaning it wouldn't be precedent setting as it is not new law. There is a duty of care from one player to another to take reasonable care. Breach of that duty requires proof that the tackle was so reckless that a player of that level would have realised it posed a foreseeable risk of injury.
Regarding the validity of the claim, if it is deemed by the judge to be a simple error of judgment by the tackling player, Blackstock would not win his case. It will turn, on the evidence of whether it was such a bad tackle, whether there was excessive force or recklessness that Olofinjana was negligent and therefore liable to Blackstock. If this was proved, the court would then go on to consider what the injury has caused in terms of financial losses as a professional footballer to the claimant. They will have to predict based on evidence how his career may have proceeded if the injury had not occurred.
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