Establishing Liability for Life Changing Injuries Sustained in a Rugby Match
In the case of Czernuska v King (2023) EWHC 380 (KB), the High Court heard a liability-only trial to consider whether a rugby player, Natasha King (Defendant), was liable for negligence for serious personal injuries suffered by an opposing player, Dani Czernuszka (Claimant), during the course of a rugby match. The case is an interesting exploration of the application of the law relating to negligence in competitive sports.
Czernuska v King (2023): Background of events leading to the life changing injury
Dani Czernuszka very sadly suffered multiple catastrophic injuries as a result of being tackled during an amateur rugby match. She suffered a significant spinal cord injury which rendered her paralysed from the waist down, resulting in her being wheelchair dependent for life.
She was 28 years old at the time and the mother of two young children. It goes without saying that these were life changing injuries.
Czernuszka and King were both players on opposing teams in a rugby match in “a developmental” (i.e. beginners) rugby union league. Czernuszka was quite new to the game, while King had been playing for some years and was relatively experienced. King was the captain of her team and, according to witnesses, an influential member of the squad.
The two teams met for their first game of the new rugby season on 8 October 2017. The whole match was captured on video, a recording of which was available for the Judge hearing the case. King’s team apparently behaved particularly aggressively with a significant amount of ‘trash talk’, swearing and verbal abuse directed towards their opponents, and it seemed that, as the match went on, King had marked Czernuszka as a target.
In a previous friendly match between the two teams, there were a series of incidents which involved King, including a player having their wrist broken during a tackle and another apparently being intentionally hit on the back of the head.
In the lead-up to the incident that caused Czernuszka’s severe personal injury, King had tackled her while she was running with the ball, causing them both to hit the ground with some force. Czernuszka immediately recovered while King, on the other hand, appeared to be winded by her own tackle and play was stopped temporarily. During this time, Czernuszka and her team members appeared to celebrate (they were winning 14 – 0) and the video footage shows that this seemed to aggravate King and her team. Czernuszka’s teammates gave evidence in Court that King was clearly very angry afterwards, having been overheard saying that she was going to “break” Czernuszka.
Just a few minutes later, the rugby ball came near to Czernuszka and she bent down to pick it up. King was seen to run directly at Czernuszka and, while she was bent over with her head and neck exposed, tackled her. Czernuszka was effectively parcelled up by King who pulled her off her feet at the back of her knees and drove downwards, with the full weight of King landing on the top of her back. Czernuszka sustained a T11/12 fracture with a corresponding spinal cord injury causing Czernuszka to be paralysed from the waist down. She suffered a life changing injury.
Czernuska v King (2023) The Court’s decision on compensation for the life changing injury
The primary issue for the Court was whether King had committed an act of negligence within the meaning of the law and whether she was liable to pay compensation for Czernuszka’s personal injury claim. The Judge decided that the applicable legal test for this was whether King failed to exercise such a degree of care as was appropriate in all the circumstances.
The Judge was persuaded that Czernuszka was not in possession of the ball and therefore should not have been tackled at all. They also found that she was in an exposed position and was not prepared to be tackled, and furthermore that she was vulnerable due to her smaller size and stature compared to King. The Judge ultimately found that King executed the tackle with reckless disregard for Czernuszka’s safety and it was done in a manner that was liable to cause her injury and making it a valid injury claim.
The Judge did not find that Natasha King necessarily intended to injure Dani Czernuszka, but instead that she was so angry towards Czernuszka that she had set out to seek revenge, and had consequently ‘closed her eyes’ to the obvious risk she was placing Czernuszka under. The Judge therefore held that King is liable to Czernuszka for the life changing injuries she suffered.
While those playing a contact sport like rugby often accept a certain level of risk of a sporting injury, it seems that if those who have suffered injury can prove that the events of the game went well beyond the normal course of play, they may be able to establish liability in their favour for an injury claim. However, this is not a straightforward task and this particular case had the benefit of complete video footage to assist the Court. Those that find themselves in a similar situation to Dani Czernuszka in this case should seek experienced and specialist legal representation from life changing injury claim solicitors.
The Claimant (Dani Czernuszka) in this case has been successful in achieving a liability finding which is a key step towards being compensated for the life-changing injuries she has suffered.* Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*