Club Insurance – Mock Trial
Author: Mel James First Published: 09/09/2014

Representing the Federation, Maurice Doogan and I attended this “mock trial” at Edgbaston Cricket Ground in February.  There were over 35 different sports represented amongst a few hundred attendees.

Although the whole proceeding was condensed to a morning and afternoon session, a normal claims case of this type would possibly have taken up to 3 days to reach a decision.

The witness and claimant roles were performed by local actors, with the Barristers and QC’s qualified within their roles as litigation specialists dealing with the sports injury and negligence section of law.  Although it was a fictitious claim case, the proceedings were undertaken as authentically as any legal court claim.

The “claimant” was a student that helped out the village cricket team by grass cutting the outfield for them.  His only remuneration for this was some snacks and drinks. He was unfortunately struck on the head by a cricket ball, which had passed through a gap in the training nets. His claim was for missing a year’s study plus help from his mother and medications, a total of £13,308.

(During the trial, we were supplied with an electronic voting hand set that could, with our answers to set questions, decide what the majority of attendees predicted as the final outcome of the trial)

The Cricket Club (similarly to many clubs) did not take up the offer of paying the extra cover of employer’s liability, but the insurers were confident that the claimant was not employed.  The Cricket Club also failed to inform the insurers that a claim was imminent between renewals of the old and new policies.  (Every club or organisation is only as proficient as its weakest link)

The batsman that hit the ball through the net, “Slogger”, had actually lapsed on his annual membership, but still played for the team, due to his value as a high run scoring batsman.  Therefore there were lots of anomalies to consider within the trial.

To begin with, the voting of the “audience/gallery” that the claim against the club’s negligence would be proven was 75%.  After the first session, which involved questioning the claimant and the bar attendant, the voting percentage of a successful claim dropped to 58%.

The defence QC began the afternoon session by questioning “Slogger “plus the head coach, the club captain and the grounds man.  They all agreed that no hole or gap was visible on net examination during or on the original set up of the nets.  The club also kept a “Net Assessment Log”, with thorough checks 3 times a year and ad hoc inspections before and after each session.  As the nets were coloured black and sturdy in construction, it would be easy to notice any major breaks or tears.  During the session the voting for the claim to be proven went back up to 69%.

The Judge then retired for about 30 minutes to arrive at his verdict.

The final vote from us the gallery, went back up to 73% very close to our original 75% vote.  We all stood up for the Judges return.  He clinically went through the issues, firstly, unfortunately injuries happen whether you are a volunteer or not.  The Claimant wasn’t an employee and pay wasn’t a motivation.  Obviously there was a hole in the net, but there was no evidence of negligence.  The village club was not a professional club it was run by amateurs and they did have a risk assessment in place, although the club should have given more training to its staff.

He therefore rejected the claim with costs only by policy.

What really convinced the judge, emphasised in his summing up, were the recorded details of the “Net Assessment Log”.  By keeping this log up to date, this amateur club had taken the correct steps on its safety procedure and therefore helped to reduce its risks within this accident.

Attending this trial, plus the day’s proceedings, was a real eye-opener to the fact that clubs should be fully insured and all risks assessed to cover those unexpected accidents.  Should any claim or accidents need to be decided in a civil court, the proceedings could be a very traumatic experience for any club secretary or member.  A court attendance and the involvement of rigorous questioning from professional Barristers, is a very daunting scenario.  Civil cases are decided by a Judges verdict that can easily go either way.

Within the structure of the 35 different sports attending, each had different requirements of insurance cover.  Many of the sports attending the trial were seeking further cover and advice from the sports insurers in attendance at the trial.  We in athletics are covered by a policy from our governing body, UKA.  All our paid up affiliated athletic clubs are covered by the UKA Insurance scheme, which basically covers training, competition and travel to these events.  It is only a basic cover and its full wording can be found on the UKA website, it covers a few different roles within its description (officials, athletes clubs etc.).  It would be prudent for all club members, to prompt their committees to review this policy to assess whether or not they have adequate cover for their particular club needs.  Obviously, the stadium based clubs, due to the amount of activity, (especially during training nights) have a higher risk than the road and harrier type clubs.

The lesson from the trial is to make sure that your club needs are fully covered by adequate insurance and that you adopt and practise a regular risk assessment for your club activities.