Litigator's View

The huge public interest in the outcome of Watson v British Boxing Board of Control is not surprising. After all, more than 12 million people in the UK alone watched the events which led to the case unfold on live television.

Shortly after the referee stopped the fight between Chris Eubank and Michael Watson in the 12th round, Watson collapsed. He had suffered a subdural haemorrhage, probably as a result of being knocked down and hitting the ropes at the end of the 11th round. No cause of action arises out of those facts. Watson's claim arose as a result of what occurred following his collapse.

Watson's case was that the British Boxing Board of Control (the board) owed him a duty of care to provide appropriate medical assistance at ringside. Its failure to provide such assistance meant a largely remediable condition became irremediable. Had Watson been resuscitated in the ring, as opposed to 30 minutes later in hospital, he would have made a full recovery. He was not, and will remain severely disabled for the rest of his life.

The board denied that it owed Watson a duty of care, claimed that it did all that was required and said that earlier treatment would not have improved Watson's chance of recovery.

It is perhaps surprising that the board sought to argue that it owed no duty of care to a boxer. As its name implies, the board controls boxing in the UK. The board often stresses its concerns for the safety of boxers and its role in the development of medical safeguards. Mr Justice Ian Kennedy found it difficult to see how the board could deny that it had a duty in these circumstances.

The breach of duty arose as a result of the board having no protocol in place as to what to do in the event of a boxer collapsing at the end of a fight. The simple and inexpensive measures were not in place for Watson, despite the fact that he was not the first boxer to have suffered a subdural haemorrhage in the immediate aftermath of a boxing contest.

The court was in no doubt that the board was in breach of its duty.

The court was also satisfied that if a proper protocol for the treatment of an injured boxer had been in place, Watson would have made a good recovery.