Your Money: Harmless recreation? Mistime a tackle or slice a drive today and you could lose thousands of pounds

Michael Drewett looks at how to insure against unintentional injuries to other people

On an average Bank Holiday weekend, as many as 70 people might be hospitalised as a result of accidents on golf courses. Even that is a conservative guesstimate, based on recently published Government figures of 60,000 golf course hospitalisations in the last seven years.

But the risks of a seemingly harmless recreation extend beyond the victim. If you injure someone - whether on the golf course, tennis court, cricket pitch or even while cycling or rollerblading - increasingly, you face the risk of being sued for damages. As a result, you could end up with a bill for compensation, or even just the legal expenses of defending yourself, and these can run into thousands of pounds.

A landmark legal judgment four years ago really brought the issue into the public eye. Insolvency practitioner John Shipley sliced a tee shot at Buckpool golf club in Scotland and hit Paul Lewis, a lawyer, who was putting on an entirely separate hole. Mr Lewis lost his power of speech for three weeks and later developed epileptic fits. The significance of the ruling was that the errant golfer's relatively high handicap of 24 did not excuse him the consequences of inadequate technique. Indeed, it had the opposite effect. Sheriff Noel McPartlin said: "Less skillful players are more likely to hit a bad shot." As a result, negligence was established, and it cost Mr Shipley pounds 15,500.

Last summer, Liverpool county court awarded pounds 24,000 to Derek Horton, who was hit in the face by a ball and lost an eye. In his case, the "guilty" party was covered by insurance, but thousands of golfers are not.

Golfplan, the country's largest provider of specialist golf policies, includes pounds 2m cover for damage to others or property. Ron Channon, founder of the Bristol-based insurer, said: "It is not just a golf ball bearing down on you like a cruise missile that is the problem. There are lots of claims for lost teeth, which are very expensive. One man, for example, after fluffing a shot, just went through the motions of his swing again. By then, his partner had walked on, and he was hit full in the face by the follow-through."

Most insurance bought by sports enthusiasts and for other recreations focuses on equipment theft, the cost of medical treatment or loss of income as a result of injury. But the extent of liability cover is also important.

Curious as it may seem, you could already be covered for injuring others under your household contents policy - assuming you have one. Look for clauses about public or third-party liability and/or legal fees. Even if the policy does not mention specific sports or pastimes, you may be covered simply because they are not specifically excluded.

However, it is dangerous to rely on being automatically covered - particularly since insurers may be about to tighten up, putting in more exclusions, afterthe recent case of rugby player Ben Smoldon. This highlighted the fact that it is not just the sportsmen or women themselves who can be held responsible. Mr Smoldon, who became paralysed as a result of injuries during a rugby game, sued the referee for pounds 1m for failing to take action to stop repeated collapsing of the scrum. The court found in his favour.

The Association of British Insurers points out, however, that claims are unlikely to be upheld if "reasonable precautions" appear to have been taken by those in charge, or by a club itself. For example, spraining an ankle on a muddy football pitch is more likely to be attributed to bad luck with the weather than poor groundsmanship.

Even so, Malcolm Tarling, a spokesman for the ABI, adds: "This aspect of a 'duty of care' is important. Even in a cricket match on the local green, the umpire, however amateur he is, must consider his responsibilities. An out-of-practice guest player in a Sunday game may well have recourse to a claim if he were to be injured by the opposition's fast bowler as a result of repeated appeals against bad light being ignored."

The ABI's advice for anyone playing a sport is: assess the risks involved, do anything reasonable to minimise them, and check on your insurance position. Check whether you are covered under your home contents policy, or under any insurance via the club or federation concerned. If not, consider a specialist policy.

Of course, most recreation-related insurance claims still relate to more mundane incidents such as broken legs, holiday curtailments and theft or personal accidents. Cardiff-based WorldCover Direct, for example, offers annual travel insurance for an unlimited number of trips - including those in the UK as long as they are more than 25 miles from home. Comprehensive cover costs pounds 75 for an individual, pounds 110 for a couple and pounds 120 for a family of four.

There are supplements for specialist sports. Many mildly hazardous pastimes such as horse riding are already included, while some exotic occupations such as gorilla trekking are covered for only pounds 16 extra.

Parascending over water is included in the normal rates, but paragliding over land is regarded as an unacceptable risk altogether. Subaqua diving has just been added as a new option. For a sport regarded by many insurers as well into the "hazardous" category, pounds 27 a year for diving down to 30 metres is not uncompetitive.

WorldCover chief executive Jonathan Biles said: "Diving involves a lot of expensive equipment, and illness or injury can curtail a whole trip. With all the horror stories, insurance is important. Believe me, you do not want to see the bill for putting anyone in a decompression chamber for two days in the United States."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
News
Missing: 'Mail' columnist Peter Hitchens
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power