Applicability of Volenti non fit injuria in Sports: Both from Players and Viewers perspective

Sport LAW change 2_7

This article was written by Krishna Pallavi V, student of University of petroleum and energy studies on account of her submission for 1st National Article writing Competition organized by Racolb Legal in which she scored 3rd position.


Volenti non fit injuria” is one of the major defences in the Law of Torts[2]. This phrase is derived from a latin term which states “to a willing person, injury is not done,” in simple words, it states that when a person voluntarily consents to a risk, very well knowing the consequences of it, cannot bring claim against the other party, for the injuries suffered by him in tort or delict, for example, a spectator who is hit by a foul ball while sitting in the stands at a baseball game, cannot recover for injuries because most of the fans know that stray balls in the stands in an inevitable part of the game.

However, this rule has an exception, where this applies only to the risk which a reasonable person[3] would consider them as assumed by their actions. For example, a soccer player consents to being hit, and to the other expected injuries of the game, but does not consent to his opponent punching him or doing any other activity outside the usual terms of the game.

The defence volenti non fit injuria is taken into consideration in various contexts viz, employment relations, rescue cases, suicide case, drunk and drive cases, occupiers liability cases and also taken into consideration in the context of sporting events.

Relation between Law of torts and sports: Relevance of Volenti non fit injuria

From time immemorial an increasing number of cases of violent acts during sport events were recorded. Many sports pose serious dangers to the players as well as to the spectators. Thus, when it comes to sports events, courts generally give judgements to suits which involve injuries to the players and the spectators under the tort law. Thus, according to the tort law, if a party owes a duty of care towards another party and that duty is breached, the party owing the duty is liable for any injuries, suffered by the party to whom the duty is owed to the result of the breach. The level of duty of care depends upon the situations. Higher the danger, Higher the decree of care and vice-versa.

However in such situations the Defendants may hold any number of defences and when it comes to sports-related injury suits, the defendants possess the most successful defence of Volenti non-fit injuria where the defendants can claim this defence telling that the plaintiff was at his own risk. However, this rule holds an exception where the defendants cannot take the defence of volenti non fit injuria, on certain grounds. This exception is applicable in both players and viewers cases.

Applicability of Volenti non fit injuria in Players perspective.

The law says, that a participant in a sporting event is taken to consent of the assumed risk or the injury which occurs in the usual course of the game and thus cannot claim for any injury that takes place in the usual course of the game. However, the players’ do not consent to the negligence of his fellow players or any other activity that is outside the usual course of the game.

The following cases lay down the applicability of Volenti non fit injuria in Players perspective:

Cafest  v. Tombleson[4] (Applicability of Volenti non fit injuria is successful)

In this case, a women hurts her wrist while roller skating and claims damages on the basis that the defendant did not give her wrist guards and warning for dangers. In this case the defence was successful and the defendant was not held liable, as the court declared that she had accepted a known risk associated with the game.

Condone v. Basi [5] (Applicability of Volenti non fit injuria is unsuccessful)

In this case, a footballer was held liable for breaking his opponents’ leg in a tackle. Courts held that in this case the defence would be unsuccessful as every player is under a duty to take reasonable care of the other players in the field. Hence, the defendant can be sued for causing injuries to the plaintiff.

Volenti non fit injuria in viewers’ perspective.

              In Viewer (Spectator) related cases, the courts strictly adhere to the doctrine of Volenti non fit injuria of the tort law. Thus, when a viewer buys a ticket to watch any sporting event, it is generally believed that the person does so at his own risk, properly knowing the consequences of it. However, there is an exception to this case, where the viewer consents only to the risks of watching the game but not to the negligence of the authorities or any other injury that happens outside the course to which he has not consented to.


The following cases lay down the applicability of Volenti non fit injuria in Viewers perspective.

Hall v. Brooklands auto racing Club[6] (Applicability of Volenti non fit injuria is successful)

This is a classic case, where two spectators were killed as a result of a racing car crashing into the crowd. The court gave its judgement on the fore mentioned doctrine, held that there was no liability as the spectators have consented to the risks of watching the game while purchasing the tickets.

Payne v. Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd [7] (Applicability of Volenti non fit injuria is unsuccessful)

In this case, the plaintiff was a season ticket holder and hence was familiar with the sport. Thus, while watching the game he was stuck not by a puck[8], but by the stick of one of the players who was grappling with an opponent player in front of the plaintiff. Thus, the court held that it was against the limited course to which the plaintiff has consented to and held that the defence Volenti non fit injuria would be unsuccessful and the defendant can be held liable to pay damages to the plaintiff.

If one deeply studies the defence Volenti non fit injuria and its applicability in sports related cases, one will know that apart from the Players and the Viewers, even the Organisers organising a particular sports event are also liable, if any injury is caused to the audience due to faulty barricades or ropes or any other negligence which causes injury to the audience.

Following is the case which analyses the liability of organisers for the injury caused to the audience:

White v. Blackmore [9]

This is a landmark case, where Mr. White was killed at a Jalopy car race due to the negligent construction and set-up of the ropes. A car crashed into ropes about 1/3 a mile from the place from where Mr. White was standing. Consequently, he was catapulted and was thrown 20 foot in the air and died due to injuries. Mr. White was a driver in the race, but when the incident took place he was in between the race, standing with his family. He had signed up for a exclusion clause. There was a sign at the entrance to the grounds which states that Jalopy racing is dangerous and the organisers accept no liability for any injury howsoever caused. The programme also contained a similar clause. His widow brought an action against the organiser of the event who defended on the grounds of Volenti non fit injuria and that they have no liability. But, the defence of Volenti non fit injuria was unsuccessful as Mr. White has consented only to the risk of Jalopy race but has not accepted to the risk of the negligent construction of the ropes. Thus, the Defendant (Organisers) was held liable.

Thus, after analysing the various judicial precedents it can be concluded that, Volenti non fit injuria arises when a person is ignorant to the risk that he had voluntarily consented to or has amounted to any negligence or acted recklessly and caused injury to others or has done anything outside the usual course of the game is either punished or exempted by the law accordingly.

[2]A tort, in common law, is a civil wrong that unfairly causes someone else to suffer loss resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortuous act.

[3] In law, a reasonable person or a reasonable man is a composite of relevant community’s judgement as to how a typical member of a said community should behave in situations that might pose a threat of harm. (Oxford grammar Dictionary)

[4](2003) NSWCA 210

[5] [1985] 1 WLR 866.

[6] [1933] 1 K.B. 205 (C.A.).

[7][1949] 1 D.L.R. 369 (Ont. C.A.).

[8] A black disc made of hard rubber used in Ice Hockey.

[9] [1972] 3WLR 296

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