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It can happen easily, someone is hit by a golf ball on the 13th tee.  A slip and fall happens at an evening social.  A member is tipped by a car in the car park of your local GAA.  In these cases, are a club liable and how do the courts approach liability of members of a club or voluntary association?

Some basic principles must be outlined first to understand this area of law.  A club is an association of individuals bound together by a contract, the terms of such contract normally being the club constitution or rules.  A club of its own, does not have its own separate legal capacity.  In a company, there is a distiction between the company and the members (ie the shareholders).  In a club situation, no such distiction applies.  The club is the members.

Clubs are normally operated by a committee.  But the club committee is not the club.  Committee members do not normally take on additional liability beyond that of the members.  Committee members are often cited as the parties in litigation, but be they defendants or plaintiffs in a case, they do so in a representative capacity, merely as the legal front for the all the members.

Trustees are often appointed in a club environment.  Again, they are not the club, but they are simply a legal tool normally used by a club structure.  The role of trustees of a club is to hold the property of the club and legal title in club premises, grounds and the like normally falls on trustees.

The law relating to injury of club members is well established.  A club member cannot sue a club for personal injuries sustained by other club members at a club event or on club property.  The law states that a person

The law can protect club members better than any superhero!

The law can protect club members better than any superhero!

cannot sue himself, which a member would be doing in a personal injury action.  The leading case in the area Murphy v Roche (No 2) [1987] IR 656 gave further clarity on this rule.  Judge Gannon in that case ruled that a member is excluded from suing a club, particularly where the injury arises from club activities which “corresponds with the common interest”.  By that, the court meant, that if a member is injured at an event, such as an evening social, which is organised by the club, witht the consent or agreement of the members, then, that event is a club event.   By contrast, the court ruled that liability may not lie with the club if the action of the member which caused the injury “was not common to all and is at variance with the rules”; in that case liability could remain with that individual.  This would seem to indicate that the club as a whole could escape liability if it could be shown that the actions of an individual were not authorised by the club or not in line with the rules (for example dangerous play at a location not sanctioned by the club).  This appears to be borne out by UK case law which suggests that where a member (“Member A”) assumes a particularly duty and performs that negligently, then that person may be individual liable to the injured member (“Member B”).  So in Prole v Allen [1950] 1 All ER 476 a member who had been appointed as club steward was held to have assumed a duty to each of the other members in the carrying out of his function. The Club steward was held liable as he was the person who had turned off the lights  over a stairwell thus leading to injury of the plaintiff.

For more information on liability of clubs or issues related to voluntary associations, please contact Colm Kelly solicitor at ckelly@hcalaw.ie or 066 9761295.