Injured football fan compensated for Club’s failure to use safety netting

In one of my more unusual cases, compensation was recovered for a client who had been injured whilst watching the pre-match shooting practice at a professional football club’s stadium. A player’s shot narrowly missed the goal and travelled at speed towards my client who was injured when he raised his hand to deflect the ball away.

Now, don’t get me wrong, in most cases where a spectator is injured by a stray ball whilst watching a match, that injured spectator will not be entitled to compensation.

This case was different in that it appeared that there HAD been safety netting behind the goal at the other end of the pitch during the pre-match warm-up.  The Football Club denied having had any safety netting available to use on the day.

The Club stated that there was no strict requirement for safety netting to be installed. However, we were able to rely upon guidance from the Sports Ground Safety Association which requires there to at least be a risk assessment. The Club had conducted no such risk assessment but it took an early application to the Court to get the Club to admit this.

However, more importantly, the Club also alleged that it had stopped using safety netting for years prior to the accident. But we were then able to find photographic evidence online of the Club’s ground which showed that safety netting was being used right up until a few months before this accident and again within a couple of months after the accident. Photographs online showed that, in that interim period, the Club had stopped putting up the netting at this end because it had blocked off the seats behind this goal so that a big advertising banner could be installed. However, on this particular day, there was no advertising banner and away fans WERE being allowed to sit behind the goal with no safety netting having been erected. All of the evidence suggested that the Club did have safety netting, was well-practised at erecting safety netting during the pre-match warm-ups/shooting practice, had stopped putting up the netting at this end due to the seats being blocked for a set period but then failed to re-assess the position (and start re-using the safety netting at this end) after opening this seating area back up to away fans on the first day of the season.  This was therefore an accident which would have been easily avoided had the Club not been negligent in failing to start re-using the safety netting at this end.

After 3 years, the Club did finally concede the point and agree to pay compensation to my injured client. But this is yet another example of how defendants and their insurers will do everything they can to avoid paying out compensation (including being very ‘flexible’ with the truth). There is no real incentive on defendant insurers to settle cases like this and that is why it is important to seek early legal advice from a specialist in order to ensure that the proper legal tests can be considered and all of the relevant evidence obtained.

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