Amateur sports clubs throughout the country, especially those sharing pitches, should be sleeping easier at night thanks to a recent Court of Appeal decision.
Clubs had been facing an onerous and costly pre-match pitch inspection regime arising out of an injury sustained by a teenage rugby player.
Jack Sutton was injured during a training session at Syston Rugby Football Club when he attempted to score a try in the touchdown area and struck part of a cricket boundary marker which had broken off below grass level.
Mr Sutton alleged that a detailed inspection of the pitch should have taken place and had it been carried out the marker would have been located and his injury prevented.
The Club accepted they owed Mr Sutton a duty of care under section 2(2) of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (OLA 57), which states that an occupier should take reasonable care to see that visitors will be reasonably safe.
They also admitted that there should have been a general inspection of the pitch before use. However, they disputed that such an inspection would have noted such a small object as a broken-off cricket marker.
At first instance the Judge found in favour of Mr Sutton awarding damages of £54,000 and concluded that the pitch should have been walked over at a “reasonable walking pace.” Crucially, he also found that the touchdown area should have been inspected with a “slightly more careful degree of attention.”
The club appealed against the ruling and in Sutton v Syston Rugby Football Club Ltd  EWCA Civ 1182 (CA (Civ Div)) the Court of Appeal judge, Lord Justice Longmore, arrived at a different conclusion.
He agreed that the whole pitch should be inspected “at a reasonable walking pace” and that the thorough inspection should be carried out by a coach / match organiser (or someone on their behalf) before the match/session starts.
But he disagreed that more attention needed to be given to the touchdown areas, considering it, “unnecessarily complicated to require different standards of care for different parts of the pitch.”
This judgment is positive news not just for rugby clubs but for all amateur sports clubs. It is a common sense judgment which makes clear the level of pre-session/match inspections that are to be expected and must be carried out.
In this modern day with more and more multi-purpose pitches it should come as a relief that sports clubs have some protection from unusual and hidden objects that are simply not practicable to locate.
Dr Julian Morris, Sports and Personal Injury Law Partner, Plexus Law