In 2021, former Flat jockey Freddy Tylicki made a £6m negligence claim against fellow rider Graham Gibbons.
He claimed damages for “life-changing injuries” he suffered when his horse and three others fell during a race at Kempton in October 2016 and is now paralysed and wheelchair user. He claimed that his fellow jockey’s riding was “dangerous in the extreme” during the race, breaching the duty of care owed by one jockey to another.
Graham Gibbons denied negligence and causation, defending on the grounds that the fall was a “racing accident occasioned by the horses coming together”.
The claim was brought in negligence and contrary to the rules of racing.
Mr Tylicki’s case is that halfway through the race, Mr Gibbons directed his horse, the favourite and eventual winner Madame Butterfly, towards the running rail, cutting across the line of his horse, Nellie Deen, resulting in two points of contact. Mr Tylicki says he shouted at Mr Gibbons to try to stop him, but the other jockey continued towards him. He says that Mr Gibbons should have known through his experience if nothing else that there was likely to be another jockey between him and the rail and that to carry on moving towards it was very dangerous.
Mr Gibbon’s defence was that he did not move towards the rail and there was insufficient space anyway for another horse to be between him and the rail. So he wouldn’t have expected one to be there. It was suggested that Mr Tylicki brought the accident on himself, because he went for a gap that didn’t exist, an allegation that Mr Tylicki totally disagreed with.
Mr Gibbons said that the incident was:
“…a racing accident occasioned by the horses coming together, as described, as they travelled at speed around the bend”
and that it was a
“…split-second” decision that jockeys are required to make and that he was not even guilty of a careless misjudgement. The fall was an accident of that type that occurs in racing.”
The Defendant’s expert, Charlie Lane, a well- known expert in horse related claims said had he been a steward acting on the day:
“He would’ve reached the decision that the interference was accidental”.
Patrick Lawrence QC, who represented Mr Gibbons, said that he feared, despite the “absolutely tragic consequences for one of the jockeys concerned” , that if the claim were to succeed, this may lead others to think they too could make claims, leading to severe restrictions on the future of racing and sports in general because of the fear of litigation.
Despite all this, after a 4 day hearing, the High Court agreed with the Claimant, Mr Tylicki and found Mr Gibbons liable for his injuries due to negligent riding and a “reckless disregard” for Mr Tylicki’s safety. The judge, said that it was more than likely that he was aware of Mr Tylicki’s presence between his horse and the rail and even if he wasn’t, he should have been. Jockeys riding at that high level need to be:
“…able to assess and reassess the constantly changing racing conditions, which includes the positioning of other horses that are nearby, in order to be able to adjust their own riding and tactics.”
The judge said Mr Gibbons’s actions “were not mere lapses or errors of judgment” and were “a course of action that carried over a number of seconds”, adding: “While that might, in some circumstances, be considered a short period of time … this was a sufficient period of time for a skilled jockey to make decisions.”
Mr Tylicki’s compensation award is to be decided, but could well run into millions of pounds. He has been very determined and has made a life for himself in racing commentary.
There are some points to take away from this case which in principle can be applied to any sport:
- There is a legal duty of care to fellow competitors
- But the Court in this case acknowledged that the threshold for a finding of negligence in cases of sporting injury is a high one.
- Although competitors in almost every active sport voluntarily accept a risk of injury. that does not excuse them from liability for injury caused by their recklessness or negligence.
- There is a fine line between “giving your all” and “going for every chance” and being negligent and dangerous in tactics.
- Jockeys can be fined for not “riding out”-not riding to win where there is a possibility of doing so. This must not conflict with their duty to fellow riders. But in the heat of the moment, this can be a difficult call
- Jockeys have a “double whammy” in that they are riding a living being with a mind of its own!
- This case shows the importance of having individual indemnity insurance which should protect sportspeople and cover compensation to others if they are found negligent or in breach of regulations. The Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) in Britain has indemnity cover for its members but its equivalent in Ireland, the Irish Jockeys Association (IJA), doesn’t.
- The insurance must be of sufficient cover, as lifetime awards of £20 million pounds are not unknown. The costs of caring for a catastrophically injured person continue to rise.
- If there is no insurance in place, assets such as property can be seized and sold to meet the compensation award/
But interestingly, the judge concluded that her findings only related to this case and did not set a precedent. What this means is that future similar cases may not be totally bound by the findings in this case and the Court given no choice but to follow the decision and find in the same way. Each case will be looked at on its own facts and merits and the outcome may be different.
If you have been injured in an incident in a sports context, you can speak to one of our legal team as to whether there can be a claim. Email firstname.lastname@example.org