David Ligertwood on a football players's on-pitch liability. David Ligertwood is a solicitor at Townleys.

A Bradford City footballer has been awarded u50,000 interim compensation in the High Court, following a tackle inflicted by a Huddersfield Town defender.

Kevin Gray's high tackle, which fractured Gordon Watson's leg in two places and sidelined him for 20 months, was described as "appaling" by expert witness Jimmy Hill. The action was to establish liability only. Damages will be awarded next year.

The trial consisted of four claims. Watson claimed against Gray for negligence and against Gray's club, Huddersfield Town, for being vicariously liable for such negligence. Bradford City made a claim against Gray for unlawful interference with their player's contract of employment and accused Huddersfield Town of being vicariously liable.

Bradford's claims were unsuccessful, as the requirement of recklessness was not established on the balance of probabilities. The plaintiff was unable to establish that the first defendant knew that there was a significant risk of causing serious injury.

Watson was successful in both his claims, but the test employed by Judge Hooper differed from previous tests, namely McCord v Swansea Football Club and Conforth TLR and Condon v Basi [1985] WLR 866.

In those cases, the judges focused on two alternatives: whether the defendant had exercised a degree of care appropriate in all the circumstances; or whether the defendant had acted in a way that the plaintiff did not consent to.

But the test used by Judge Hooper was "that it must be proved on the balance of probabilities that a reasonable professional player would have known that there was a significant risk that what Gray did would result in serious injury to Watson". Once the judge had decided that the tackle was negligent, it was admitted that the club was vicariously liable.

Judge Hooper qualified this test by stating that it was a fair test to apply in the circumstances, and would not necessarily be an appropriate test in other cases or for other sports. However, this case is indicative of the increasing volume of sport-related litigation. This was the first time that a professional footballer has been awarded damages for an injury inflicted on the field which did not end his career.