Czech Republic: Legal Responsibility for Sports-Related Injuries
→ Daniel Košťál
Despite initial attempts to separate them, sport, as a global phenomenon of our time, and the law, as a universal normative system, are undoubtedly interconnected. A separation, in fact, exists only in theory, because the boundaries of a country’s laws do not end on the edges of a playing field.
Legal liability for sports-related injuries
One of the most frequently discussed areas of sports law is the question of legal liability facing both professional and amateur athletes for sports-related injuries. At the moment there is no universal approach to it.
One of the first attempts to address the problem originated in the period between the world wars, and was based on the acceptance of risk (ie, the consent of the victim). According to this theory, athletes participating in organised sports competitions automatically accept the risk that damage may result, and thus waive the entitlement to compensation if it does. Critics, however, have claimed that nobody, in advance, gives “consent” to a serious injury in a sporting event, and that, accordingly, a presumption of consent cannot be assumed and serve as basis for a waiver of any claims in connection with an eventual injury. None of other theories based on various objective principles, ie, society’s interest in the role of sport, has gained general recognition.
Violation of the rules of sport subsequently became the general criteria for assessing injuries during sports competitions, in respect of which there is consensus across continental Europe, with certain exceptions. The Austrian Supreme Court was one of the first to formulate this idea in a decision dated 23 October 1933, which ruled that if a person who causes injury in violation of the rules of the sport, it is responsible for the injury and can be held liable for damages.
On the other hand, there is no general rule tying compliance with sports rules to protection for liability resulting from an injury, and individual jurisdictions approach the issue differently. In addition, those cases that have held individuals responsible for causing injury in sports are often due to the nature of the sport and the level of risk involved.
Case law in Austria and Germany
When looking at recent case law dealing with liability for sports-related injuries, it appears that the criteria for the violation or non-violation of sports rules have become more sophisticated, especially in the decisions reached by leading jurisdictions. Thus, it is probable that case law from other parts of Europe will follow their lead. Take for instance the decision of the court in Cologne from 1984 in which it was stated that: “Not every breach of the rules of the game which serve to protect the player justifies the reproof of negligence; it depends on whether the behaviour of the perpetrator lies on the border between the roughness which the game demands and unfair conduct. The principle according to which – in line with the principle of good faith – the claim of damages against a football teammate, if he caused physical damage, is excluded, does not only cover the case of compliance of his play with the sporting rules, but also applies to cases of minor breach of rules which are typical and inevitable for the course of events of the game. This applies under the condition, that it is justified to say that the damage could also happen to the player who caused the damage.”
In other words, the breach of sporting rules does not necessarily establish liability; instead, each act must be judged individually according to the situations typical for the relevant sport. The Austrian Supreme Court has expressed a similar opinion and ruled that: “Usual minor breaches of rules, which cause injuries while engaging in contact sports, are not generally against the law and do not represent a breach of the law.”
How the referee interprets the rules of the game is an interesting question in connection with the breach of sporting rules and the potential liability for a sports-related injury. In this respect, the municipal court in Ettenheim, Germany ruled that: “in proceedings on compensation of damages, it is necessary to respect the referee’s ruling to the extent to which it was not proven otherwise.”
Case law in the Czech Republic
Sports law is a relatively new legal branch in the Czech Republic. The existing case law concerning legal liability for sports-related injuries sees a breach of sports rules as a breach of the general prevention clause of the Civil Code1 – and therefore, ipso facto, a breach of a legal duty (one of the traditional elements of liability). In other words, recent Czech case law does not reflect the developments in the criteria for a finding of liability for injury caused during sporting activity established by German and Austrian courts, and instead ties liability to almost any injury caused by an act prohibited by the rules of the sport.
Violation of the rules of sport became the general criteria for assessing injuries during sports competitions, in respect of which there is consensus across continental Europe, with certain exceptions.
- Pursuant to Act No. 40/1964 Coll., the Civil Code: “Everyone is obliged to act in such a manner so as not to cause damage to health, property, nature and the environment.” The regulation in the New Civil Code is similar in substance.