The Court of Appeal has overturned a decision for a local council to pay £22,500 in damages and legal costs to an amateur footballer injured during a match on council-owned pitch Shelf Hall Park. Dewsbury County Court had originally ordered Calderdale Council to pay the compensation award to Paul Zoldeziejewski following the football accident which resulted in the amateur player sustaining serious injuries to his knee ligaments, caused by a divot in the playing surface.

Whilst the outcome of the appeal is likely to be disappointing for Mr Zoledziejewski, I am ultimately not surprised at the decision. The potential implications for upholding the compensation award would have been significant for all local councils who own and maintain pitches for sports, and furthermore the individuals and communities who participate in football and other sports on a regular basis.

The case would have set a precedent, binding upon lower courts, had the original decision been upheld by the Court of Appeal which would have placed a positive duty on councils to ensure that pitches posed no danger, such as divots and uneven surfaces, which could cause or contribute to injury while sports are being played. There would have been a significant cost to improve pitches to ensure they reached the requisite standard and some form of inspection system would have had to have been employed to ensure an adequate standard of surface was maintained – similar to the inspection and maintenance programs on our highways.

This cost, especially at a time when council budgets are being slashed, would inevitably have led to the closure of many pitches to the detriment of amateur sport and leisure. 

Robin Tuddenham, Director of services at Calderdale Council, commented that the decision ‘clarified’ the responsibilities of local authorities’ responsibilities when it comes to maintaining public playing fields.