Are professional sports considered 'recreational activities'?

Published 27 Dec 2017

The Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) governs the rules that enable people to claim compensation if they are injured due to the negligence of another person or organisation.

One of the restrictions in the Act is that defendants can't be blamed for any harm suffered from the obvious risks of participating in "dangerous recreational activities".

But can professional sports be considered recreational activities? To answer this question, let's examine a recent case that went before the NSW Supreme Court.

Jockey blames fall injuries on competitor

In 2009, a professional jockey fell from his horse during a race at Queanbeyan Racecourse. He suffered serious injuries and argued that a fellow jockey caused the incident by intentionally moving his horse across the plaintiff's path.

The jockey pursued a public liability claim for negligence, requiring the trial judge to rule on the issue of whether or not professional horse racing is a recreational activity.

Justice Harrison referred to Section 5K of the Act, which outlines the relevant definitions of a recreational activity. Specifically, the Act states that the term encompasses:

  1. Any sport (whether or not the sport is an organised activity);
  2. Any pursuit or activity engaged in for enjoyment, relaxation or leisure; and
  3. Any pursuit or activity engaged in at a place (such as a beach, park or other public open space) where people ordinarily engage in sport or in any pursuit or activity for enjoyment, relaxation or leisure.

Citing the first definition in particular, Justice Harrison rejected the claim, ruling that professional horse racing is caught under the 'any sport' definition in the Act.

Recreational activity ruling appealed

The jockey appealed the decision, leading to the case reaching the NSW Court of Appeal.

After reviewing the evidence, the appellate judges agreed that the original decision was correct and the first definition within Section K prevented a public liability claim for the jockey's accident.

"Consistently with the primary judge's construction, no distinction is [therefore] drawn between sports participated in for recreational purposes as opposed to professional purposes," explained Justice Mark Leeming.

Every case is different, but the jockey's failed claim suggests any professional pursuing damages for injuries sustained while participating in their sport could face difficulties swaying a judge to award damages.

As such, you should discuss your case with an experienced personal injury lawyer before proceeding.

Contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers to discover whether you are eligible to make a public liability claim for your injuries.