Headshot of Terry Robinson - Accredited Specialist and General Counsel at Everingham Solomons TamworthA recent matter in the District Court of NSW considered a claim of negligence brought against a Council.

The claimant was a high school student participating in a touch football competition on a sports field maintained and owned by the Council.

During the game, the claimant fell to the ground alleging her foot got stuck in a hole in the playing surface of the field causing her injury to her knee.

To succeed in her claim, the claimant needed to prove on a balance of probabilities, that there was a hole in the playing surface of the field that caused her to sustain her injury.

The claimant admitted that she did not see any hole in the ground and ultimately was unable to establish that she fell into one.

The Council was also able to show evidence that groups such as touch football associations were issued permits to allow them to play on sports fields on the condition that the sporting entity had to inspect the playing field and surrounding areas prior to play for hazards and defects (such as holes) and any identified risks needed to be fixed before play and reported to the Council.

There was no evidence presented of any reports or defects in the playing surfaces from the touch football association or other sporting bodies who had recently used the sporting field.
Further the sporting Association gave evidence that their usual practice was to inspect the playing fields for risks prior to play and this was supported by a completed checklist which did not identify the hole in the surface of the field.

Additionally, Council had a system of maintenance of the park where the fields were regular inspected by a number of workers and no reports had been lodged of any defects in the playing surface.

The case highlights the importance of bodies having the control or ownership of public areas, having risk management procedures integrated into the day-to-day operation and management of public places such as sports fields, parks etc, to enable the early reporting, identification and elimination of risks on public land.

It also highlights that a claimant should have sufficient evidence and documentation to prove negligence and to prove their case as otherwise it could be an expensive gamble.
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