Earlier this year Pope Francis gave an address to the Italian Sports Centre.  His remarks included the observation that “[Sport] is a great school, provided that you live it with self-control and respect for others.”.  Recently the Supreme Court of Utah had to look at what this means in practice.

A basketball match at a meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints turned a bit ugly when one Judd Nixon was tackled by another player, Edward Clay.  The tackle was ruled to be an unintentional common foul, despite which Nixon suffered a serious knee injury.

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Nixon brought proceedings seeking damages in the Utah County District Court.  Judge Pullan granted a summary dismissal of the case on the grounds that a participant in a contact sport is liable only for the results of a wilful or reckless disregard for the safety of another player.  Mr Nixon appealed.

The Supreme Court of Utah dismissed the Appeal.  The Court adopted a simpler test which bypassed consideration of the defendant’s state of mind.  It expressed the relevant common law to be –

that voluntary participants in a sport cannot be held liable for injuries arising out of any contact that is “inherent” in the sport. Under our rule, participants in voluntary sports activities retain “a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.” Knight, 834 P.2d at 708. But there is no duty to lower or eliminate risks that are inherent in an activity.

In the circumstances, a grant of summary judgment was appropriate.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court of Utah was essentially the same as that reached by Australian courts in McNamara v Duncan and Smith v Emerson.

Nixon v Clay, 2019 UT 32