Smith v Emerson (1986) H&FLR 2014-3

Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory

23 May 1986

Coram: Miles CJ

Appearing for the Plaintiff: Not recorded
Appearing for the Defendant: Not recorded

Catchwords: Australian Capital Territory – Australian Rules football – deliberate punch – contact sports – consent – aggravated or exemplary damages.

Facts: The plaintiff and defendant were involved in two incidents while playing on opposite sides of an Australian Rules football match on 13 May 1984. In the first incident the plaintiff alleged that after he had tackled the defendant, the defendant punched him a glancing blow just under his left ear. The defendant alleged that he had simply pushed the plaintiff away after that person stepped on his foot. In the second incident the plaintiff alleged that the defendant had run at him and struck him while he (the plaintiff) was shepherding a team-mate. The plaintiff’s jaw was broken in this incident. The defendant alleged that he had simply tried to push the plaintiff’s right arm downwards and upper body to the left.

It was agreed that the actions the defendant claimed to have performed were within the rule of the game. The court noted that the incidents alleged by the plaintiff – deliberate punches to the head – were outside the rules.

Held: (1) Upholding the plaintiff’s claim, that it was well established that players of contact sports consent to physical contact (which would normally be an assault) as long as the acts are within the relevant sport’s accepted rules. The Court found the plaintiff’s case more probable than that of the defendant and therefore his claim succeeded.

(2) Rejecting the claim for aggravated or exemplary damages, that while the defendant’s actions were assaults, they did not go so far beyond acceptable conduct on a football field that there was a need for punishment or making an example of the defendant.


The Court’s judgment is available here.