Paralysed rugby player wins £10m compensation for ‘revenge’ tackle by opposition player

Dani Czernuszka will spend her life in a wheelchair (Family handout)
Dani Czernuszka will spend her life in a wheelchair (Family handout)

An amateur rugby player paralysed from the waist down after a “reckless belly-flop” tackle has won her High Court claim against an opposing player.

Reading flanker Dani Czernuszka, now 34, suffered a spinal fracture and a spinal cord injury during an amateur league rugby match, causing her to use a wheelchair full-time.

Mrs Czernuszka brought legal action against opponent Natasha King, who she claimed had dangerously tackled her in revenge during the game and was responsible for her injuries in October 2017. She was a 28-year-old mother-of-two at the time.

In a ruling on Thursday, Mr Justice Martin Spencer ruled in Mrs Czernuszka’s favour, finding that Ms King was liable for the injuries she had suffered. She had sued Ms King for up to £10million.

The judge found that during the match between the women’s teams of Reading’s Rams Rugby Football Club and Bracknell Rugby Football Club, Ms King “launched herself” at Mrs Czernuszka when she was bent over waiting to receive the ball.

“She drove the claimant backwards and, importantly, downwards using her full weight and strength to crush the claimant in a manoeuvre which was obviously dangerous and liable to cause injury,” he added.

Following a trial at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Martin Spencer found that Ms King and other members of the Bracknell team had played “in an inappropriately aggressive and intimidatory manner” and that she had become “increasingly frustrated” as the game progressed.

He also said Ms King had been “looking for an opportunity to get her revenge on the claimant: the red mist had metaphorically descended over the defendant’s eyes” after winding herself during a previous attempt to tackle Mrs Czernuszka.

The judge added: “Although this was a league match, the nature of the league being developmental meant that the players were still learning the game and it should have been played in that spirit: the players had a duty to be mindful of each other and to play with the understanding that enjoyment and learning were the main objectives, not winning.”

Mr Justice Martin Spencer said whether Mrs Czernuszka had the ball at the time of the tackle was “irrelevant” to Ms King, adding: “At that moment she was not attempting to play within the laws of the game, but to exact retribution on the claimant.”

He concluded: “I do not find that the defendant intended to injure the claimant, indeed that is not alleged against her.

“I do find, though, that the ‘tackle’ was executed with reckless disregard for the claimant’s safety in a manner which was liable to cause injury and that the defendant was so angry by this time that she closed her eyes to the risk to which she was subjecting the claimant.”

Following the judgment, Ms Czernuszka said: “I am grateful for today’s ruling and to finally put to bed all of the untruths and fabrications surrounding what happened during the game that day.

“Learning to live with my life-changing injuries has been difficult and something I could not have done without the support of my family and close friends.

“Sport has always given me great pleasure in life, and I don’t blame the game of rugby for what happened that day.

“Ultimately, I feel I was let down by improper and poor behaviour from the opposing player, coaching staff and the referee.”

Her solicitor Damian Horan said: “This case is a timely reminder that a player’s actions on the pitch never stay on the pitch and can have catastrophic consequences.”

Ms King has 21 days to seek permission to appeal.