ULSTER RUBGY was in the sin bin today after a judge ordered it to pay a fan more than £37,000 in damages for injuries suffered at its Ravenill ground in east Belfast.
The High Court in Belfast ruled that the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) breached a duty to reasonably ensure Neil Rae’s safety over eight years ago.
The 41-year-old sustained damaged ankle ligaments and a chipped bone in his foot during his fall during the Ulster v Leicester Tigers match in January 2004.
Mr Rae fell as he was going down steps out of the grandstand.
He sued the IRFU, claiming the lack of an inside handrail led to the accident in the accident.
His lawyers also argued that a structure jutting out from a wall at the bottom of the steps played a role.
Barrister Alan Kane QC told the court on Wednesday how his client was taken by surprise and overbalanced when he stepped onto something unexpected.
In his judgement, Mr Justice McCloskey identified the stadium occupier’s duty to visitors as central to the action.
He said installing an inner handrail would have reduced the width of the stairway, but not breached building regulations.
The judge pointed out how the route in and out of the grandstand would have been at “optimal capacity” as the game had just finished.
“It’s a sports ground and people are anxious to get on with what they are doing. Nobody wants to hang around,” he said.
“In ordinary parlance it is a relatively narrow staircase.
“These are not great sweeping staircases that you would find at the great sports stadia of the world, where ramps are in place.”
Mr Justice McCloskey held that there was a risk to Mr Rae as he descended the steps among other spectators.
“I find as a matter of law that the reasonably prudent occupier of these premises would have installed a handrail on the inside and, secondly, would not have permitted this offending configuration at the bottom of the steps, something which could have been very easily in my view rectified,” he said.
Following the verdict the east Belfast man expressed regret at having to bring the case.
“I’m sorry it had to come to this. It could have been settled out of court,” he said.
Mr Rae added that his accident has not put him off going to Ravenhill.
“I’m an Ulster supporter and I still attend the games. I have been going since this with the rest of my family,” he said.