Girl hit by puck not entitled to damages

Published Tuesday, 01 April 2014
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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 has ruled.

Girl hit by puck not entitled to damages
The High Court judge dismissed the girl's case on Tuesday. (© Belfast Giants)

Courtney Harris-Browning was seeking a £30k 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."

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.

Announcements over the PA system also advised spectators to keep watching the pucks.

Such risks are amongst the jolts and jogs to be expected of sporting life.

Mr Justice Gillen

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 ice 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 £50k to £60k, 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."

© UTV News
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15 Comments
me in larne wrote (150 days ago):
and liam this was a political because because ???????
culchy in the stix wrote (150 days ago):
@Lisburn in Lisburn, or how about her parents for letting her go on her own? Never mind the ice hockey, Belfast isn't exactly 12 year old girl friendly.
Michael in Belfast wrote (151 days ago):
I would guess the Legal Services Commission is paying her fees. It costs a fortune to defend these actions and if the defendant wins they still have to pay their own fees. BUT if the plaintiff wins and they are legally aided the defendant has to pay both sets of fees. It's a disgusting system. Justice??-don't make me laugh!!
liam in belfast wrote (152 days ago):
shocking comments on here,that young girl could have lost an eye,the organisers surely have a duty of care.this was a political decision.belfast if a puck is flying at you at 40mph rocky bilbao wud do well to dodge it.as for sam I would be interested to know if a young relative of yours is badly injured in the future by no fault of their own,would they not put in for compo then..lol..get real ya moran..
andrew ellis in manchester wrote (153 days ago):
correct decision. ive been watching ice hockey for 18 years and there are always regular announcements saying "keep your eye on the puck at all times" and in the progamm etc to to say this
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