Spectator loses Belfast Giants puck claim after being hit on forehead
Published 01/04/2014 | 14:59
A schoolgirl spectator hit on the forehead by an ice hockey puck at a Belfast Giants match is not entitled to damages, a High Court judge ruled today.
Courtney Harris-Browning was seeking a £30,000 award in a potentially landmark action against the team's owners and the occupiers of the Odyssey Arena.
But Mr Justice Gillen dismissed the 18-year-old's negligence claim after declaring the Belfast venue had been made as safe as reasonably possible.
He said: "The risks were no different from those which exist in a number of other sporting arenas including field hockey, football, cricket, rugby or golf.
"Such risks are amongst the jolts and jogs to be expected of sporting life."
His verdict is expected to be met with relief by ice hockey bosses around the world who feared the case could open the floodgates to a series of lawsuits.
Ms Harris Browning was bidding to become the first ever spectator in the UK to successfully sue after being struck by a puck leaving the ice rink.
She was aged 12 when the accident happened during a warm-up session before a match against the Cardiff Devils in September 2008.
A puck came off the rink and struck her over the eye, inflicting a wound which required four stitches and left a scar.
At the time she was sitting with friends around 14 rows back from the ice.
Warning signs had been displayed on all entrances to the arena, the court heard.
Annoucements over the PA system also advised spectators to keep watching the pucks.
Lawyers for the girl sued the Belfast Giants 2008 Ltd and the Odyssey Trust Company Ltd, alleging negligence and a failure to provide adequate barriers and netting to protect spectators.
They claimed it was impossible for her to keep an eye on the puck because up to 20 were on the rink during the warm-up.
Evidence was also given by another girl said to have been hit in the eye in a separate accident in February 2008.
But Belfast Giants General Manager Todd Kelman testified that in his 14 years with the team these were the only two known injuries of this kind.
With up to 120,000 spectators attending the Odyssey to watch ice hockey each season, Mr Kelman stressed that the defendants had complied with International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) regulations.
Providing netting to go above Perspex glass around the rink would cost a further £50,000-£60,000, the court heard.
Dismissing the claims of negligence and breach of the Occupier's Liability Act, Mr Justice Gillen held that reasonable precautions had been taken.
He said: "The plaintiff was injured as the result of a danger inherent in the sport itself which she must be taken to have accepted and against which the defendants cannot reasonably have expected to guard."
The judge pointed to the "plethora" of warning signs and announcements at the game.
Acknowledging that just two such injuries were known of, he added: "This is not a case of relentless occurrence."
Outside the court Mr Kelman expressed relief at the verdict.
He said: "We take every precaution and make sure we adhere to the IIHF guidelines on public safety, not only meeting our requirements but exceeding them.
"This was an unfortunate accident and all reasonable precautions had been taken to make sure this doesn't happen, but unfortunately people have to take some responsibility when they come to a sporting event of any kind."
According to the Belfast Giants' boss the case could have set a precedent if damages had been awarded.
He added: "It could have opened the door for a lot of claims for other teams."