Event Organisers: Did you hear the one about the spectator and the golf ball? Plus the latest on the £750m events insurance scheme
Earlier this summer, Ireland’s High Court dismissed a claim from a spectator who was struck by a golf ball while attending the West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point Golf Club in 2016. It was an important decision for sports clubs, tournament organisers and event spectators, according to legal firm William Fry.
The case decision comes at a time when the live events sector is set to get a much-awaited boost with a government-backed insurance scheme worth over £750m. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the scheme will help event businesses “plan events with confidence” through to next year.
The government has partnered with Lloyd’s to deliver the Live Events Reinsurance Scheme as part of the Plan for Jobs. The scheme will see the government act as a ‘reinsurer’ – stepping in with a guarantee to make sure insurers can offer the products events companies need.
Jane Longhurst, chief executive of Meetings Industry Association, said that through ongoing surveillance of the industry, the Association is acutely aware of the impact an insurance indemnification scheme will have on the sector. Almost two-thirds of venues (61%) surveyed in August 2020 highlighted the need for this to be introduced.
In 2020 almost all venues (92%) had zero cover for their lost business, of which the average venue was a significant £2,398,600.Jane Longhurst, chief executive of Meetings Industry Association
“Providing reassurance to risk-averse event organisers will be critical in the return of more recognisable booking numbers and the stimulation of the sector’s circular economy, benefitting venues, hotels, destinations, caterers and a diverse range of suppliers within the supply chain,” said Longhurst.
- The scheme will be available from September 2021 and run until the end of September 2022.
- A number of prominent insurers in the Lloyd’s market, including Arch, Beazley, Dale, Hiscox and Munich Re are supporting the schemeIt comes on top of the support given to the cultural sector, including the £2 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF), and the £500 million Film and TV Production Restart scheme – which has seen 610 independent film and TV productions and more than 50,000 screen sector jobs supported by the scheme in the last 12 months.
- The live events sector is worth more than £70 billion annually to the economy and supports more than 700,000 jobs, including small businesses and the self-employed.
We have some of the best events in the world here in the UK – from world-famous festivals to your local fair. With this new insurance scheme, everything from live music in Margate to business events in Birmingham can go ahead with confidence, providing a boost to the economy and protecting livelihoods through our Plan for Jobs.Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Case of the Spectator and the Golf Ball
The golf incident case was brought against the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) as event organisers, Rosses Point Golf Club in Co Sligo as the venue, and Kevin Le Blanc, an amateur golfer who struck the shot. The High Court held that the duty of care owed to spectators at Rosses Point Golf Club is not to act in “wanton disregard” for their safety.
“The decision matters because that is a lesser duty than the duty to act with reasonable care,” wrote William Fry partners Derek Hegarty and Craig Sowman.
According to the legal specialists, Mr Le Blanc’s golf ball was in the rough about 220 yards from the green when he hit his approach shot with a three wood. The plaintiff, a spectator, was struck by the ball on his temple while standing at a vantage point between the 11th green and the 12th tee.
According to the report, the plaintiff claimed that Mr Le Blanc hit a wayward shot and should have shouted “fore” to warn other players and spectators of an approaching ball. He also argued that both Rosses Point Golf Club and the GUI failed to take reasonable care for the safety of spectators by failing to provide stewards to direct him where to stand, by failing to put a fence around his vantage point and by failing to erect signs to warn spectators of the danger while standing there.
He argued that Mr Le Blanc, Rosses Point Golf Club and the GUI owed him a duty of reasonable care.
Mr Le Blanc gave evidence that he struck his shot along the intended line having considered the conditions, including the uphill nature of the shot and the strong wind behind him.
He said that if his shot was going off target or it was going to hit someone he would have shouted “fore” but that he could not see anything up around that area to call “fore” as there were no spectators watching at that stage and he presumed that area to have been empty.
“The court accepted evidence that Mr Le Blanc’s shot had not been wayward and that it would have been impractical and unreasonable for him to have walked up the fairway to check for spectators in any blind spots, as was suggested by the plaintiff. In contrast, the court found that the plaintiff had been talking to his friends when the shot was hit and had not been paying attention to the shot,” according to the William Fry report.
The court found that the duty of care owed to spectators is not to act in “wanton disregard” for their safety, a duty which was not breached in the case. The court noted that the plaintiff was a recreational user responsible to a huge extent for his own safety. Spectators attending the West of Ireland Championship were held to be self-policing spectators who were deemed to have been knowledgeable of golf and reasonably expected to take care of their own safety.
While not specifically considered by the court, a higher duty of care is likely to be owed to spectators attending professional or ticketed events, such as those attending European PGA Tour events.
According to the Irish Times, Colm Campbell had “claimed he is in constant pain and his life has been totally changed since he was struck on the left side of his forehead during the West of Ireland Championship for amateur golfers held at County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point, Sligo five years ago.”
The Irish Times report stated that the 65-year old father of three “now faces a substantial legal costs bill from the action which was heard over six days in the High Court after the judge also made an order for costs against him. She granted a stay on the order for 28 days in the event of an appeal.”
What’s the lesson for event organisers?
William and Fry noted that litigation has arisen from incidents of this kind in other sports. In 2008, a case was taken by a spectator who was struck over her eye by an ice hockey puck at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. The spectator alleged that the Odyssey Arena had failed to provide barriers and netting to protect spectators from wayward pucks.
The court dismissed the claim and found that the Odyssey Arena had taken sufficient precautions to prevent spectator injury by placing warnings on the match ticket, displaying warning signs on all entrances to the arena, and further warning spectators via a PA system to keep their eyes on the pucks at all times.
“The Irish High Court’s decision is important for golf and other participation sports by confirming that recreational users remain responsible to a huge extent for their own safety,” said the William Fry report, which was first published in The Irish Independent.
However, they concluded:
- Sports clubs, tournament organisers, venues, and governing bodies should note that a more onerous duty of care remains to be owed to paid and ticketed spectators who enter an arena or stadium
- Reasonable steps can be taken to reduce the risk of litigation, the suggested, by pointing out the inherent dangers of their respective sport with warnings on tickets, and by erecting signs or barriers where necessary