Ulham Football Club have won a High Court challenge against a judge’s decision that he was responsible for a youth player’s attack on an opponent which allegedly ended his professional career.
The incident happened on December 10, 2016 at an under-18 match between Fulham and Swansea City Football Club at Motspur Park in south-west London.
Towards the end of the first half of the game, Fulham midfielder Jayden Harris attacked Jordan Jones, resulting in the Swansea player suffering a serious right ankle injury.
Mr Jones later brought an action for damages against Fulham, arguing that the attack amounted to personal injury or negligence and that the club, as Mr Harris’ employer, was vicariously liable for his actions.
This is a truly significant decision dealing with the circumstances in which a court may incur civil liability following an allegedly dangerous or reckless tackle in a football competition
In October last year, a judge dismissed the assault allegations but concluded that the tackle constituted a breach of Mr Harris’ “duty to use reasonable care for the safety of another player, which in all circumstances is a professional football game is appropriate”.
He ruled that Mr Harris was guilty of negligence and held his club vicariously liable for Mr Jones’ injury and its consequences.
Fulham appealed the ruling on four counts at a hearing in April this year, and a High Court judge reversed the original decision in a judgment published on Wednesday, saying a new trial should take place.
The club argued that the first judge had failed to provide legal scrutiny of the standard of liability for personal injury in the professional sporting context.
This requires consideration of whether an accused breached the “rules of the game of football” followed by a determination of whether there was negligence – which is held to a “much higher standard” than other personal injury claims.
Fulham also argued the judge failed to provide “reasonable reasons” for rejecting his expert witness’s evidence and erred in failing to understand the context of Mr Harris’ tackle and “the realities of the game culture of professional football, which is a fast, competitive game that inevitably involves physical contact.”
The judge also failed to consider other evidence, such as the fact that the game’s referee did not issue a yellow or red card for the tackle, the club argued.
In Wednesday’s decision, Mr Justice Lane said Fulham had succeeded on all grounds of appeal and that the previous judgment should be overturned.
He concluded that the judge “by closely matching aggravated foul play in the Laws of the Game with criminal negligence” “reduced the scope of the investigation needed to answer the question of whether Mr was merely a violation of the Laws of the Game, but careless”.
Mr Justice Lane said it was “very important” whether or not the attack was carried out in a “fast-paced, heated” context in which Mr Harris had no intention of causing injury.
He added that the judge “erred in handling the expert report” and that his judgment was flawed when it “purported to set a standard for reckless or quasi-reckless conduct in the context of professional football that falls well below what.” necessary to give rise to such liability”.
The judge also “made an error of law in giving no weight at all to the fact that the referee did not call a foul,” Justice Lane said.
Following Wednesday’s ruling, Matthew Harpin, a partner at law firm Browne Jacobson who worked for Fulham, said: “This is a really important decision which addresses the circumstances in which a court may enter a civil court after an allegedly dangerous or reckless assault Liability can get in a competitive football game.
“We are pleased that the judge ruled in favor of Fulham on all four counts of appeal and agreed that civil liability in this area must be a rare finding.”