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 Friday, 13 December, 2002, 10:53 GMT
Rugby player wins paralysis payout
Richard Vowles
The ruling will send shockwaves through sport
A former amateur rugby player paralysed when a scrum collapsed has won the right to a massive compensation payout from the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) in a landmark ruling.

Front-row Richard Vowles, 29, from Llanharan, south Wales, broke his back in a match playing for the village side in January 1998.

At the High Court in London, the WRU admitted responsibility for the match referee's failure to opt for uncontested scrums, which caused the collapse while Mr Vowles was playing hooker.

This ruling is going to make the game safer for everybody else

Richard Vowles, former player
It is the first time an amateur referee in any sport has been held liable for injuries in an adult amateur game and will have "horrendous consequences" for all sport, according to the WRU.

The ruling appears to make governing bodies responsible for duty of care on the field.

The level of damages has not yet been set. Lawyers for the WRU and the referee are considering appealing the decision.

Former Commonwealth Games boxer Mr Vowles had become a professional boxer just prior to the accident, which happened in the derby match between Llanharan's second XV and that of local rivals Tondu.

He claimed referee David Evans - a solicitor - broke the rules when he allowed a scrummage to be weakened by inexperienced players in bad weather conditions during the game's final seconds.

We are concerned about the judgement and the implications of the decision for the game

WRU statement
He did not ask whether Mr Vowles - who had expected to be a reserve front-row substitute - was trained to play at hooker.

On a muddy surface, the scrum collapsed, severely injuring Mr Vowles' spine. He has used a wheelchair and has required 24-hour care from his father and others since the incident.

Judge Mr Justice Morland said Mr Evans' decision was in breach of his duty to take reasonable care for the safety of the front-row forwards.

Mr Vowles - who the WRU gave a maximum insurance payout of 91,000 after the accident - had established that, on the balance of probabilities, this breach of duty was a material cause of his accident.

The WRU accepted "vicarious responsibility" for the referee's decision. Llanharan RFC was not found negligent.

In similar cases, damages of millions of pounds have been awarded.

WRU chairman Glanmor Griffiths said: "We are concerned about the judgement which has today been delivered ... and the implications of the decision for the game of rugby union.

"Each year the union invests heavily in player, coach and referee education and puts the safety of players at all levels as a number one priority.

"In addition, the union is able to boast some of the highest standards of refereeing in the world game."

Contact sports

Mr Vowles said: "I am just glad to get it out of the way.

"This is going to make a big difference to my life. This ruling is going to make the game safer for everybody else."

His lawyers said the decision was of "great significance for the game of rugby union in particular and contact sports in general".

Solicitor Phillip Griffith said: "Whilst money can never compensate for the tragic injuries he suffered at such a young age, it will make life a little easier for him.

"The decision is also very significant for the game of rugby generally .. [it] extends the principle that referees owe a duty of care to players in a rugby match to adults, whether amateur or professional."

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Compensation has yet to be decided"
  Former England prop Jeff Probyn
"In a game like rugby you need to have insurance"
See also:

13 Dec 02 | Rugby Union
05 Dec 02 | UK
19 Jun 02 | Education
02 Dec 02 | England
Internet links:


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