by Paul Sandford ASM Plus’s Director and the convenor of its sports team and Andy Dowsett, head of the GB Professional Tennis Registry

The scenario below which is based on a real case is quite typical of the disputes that are encountered in the tennis world. It clearly demonstrates the benefits that ASM PLUS’s mediation and other ADR services can bring not only to the tennis playing world but to sport in general.

The Bainbridge tennis club, which like many, is run by volunteers has a home match against its long-standing rivals Bedrock. The losing team will suffer the ignominy of being relegated from their current lowly 11th division in the very competitive West Byfleet League to the 12th which is the bottom division, something that will affect its future ability to either secure sponsorship or attract new members.

Unfortunately, in the opening game, the Bedrock star player and club captain, the rather egotistical Slackenroe, slips and sprains his ankle. He is helped off the court and driven to A & E by a Bainbridge spectator. However, the home team captain, Baldric, sits on the sidelines, and, in contravention of club rules, does not either immediately contact the club captain, Mainwaring, or write a detailed note in the club accident book. After Slackenroe’s departure the match continues and his games are forfeited giving Bainbridge a two-game lead. The club’s insurer, Never and Co, is not notified of the incident for another 10 days or so.

​A week later, just after Baldric has gone away trekking in the wilds of Wisconsin, Bainbridge receives a letter from Slackenroe’s solicitors claiming that the court in question was slippery because some wet leaves had not been removed beforehand and that their client is seeking substantial damages of £100,000 for “pain, suffering and loss of faculty”. The solicitors make much of Baldric’s apparent lack of interest and request sight of Bainbridge’s accident book and for details of its insurers. They also contend that the match which Bainbridge ultimately won should be replayed and provide a copy of a letter that they have already sent to the Lawn Tennis Association requesting this.

​Never and Co, initially indicates that it will not cover Bainbridge because of its failure to adhere to some very simple, elementary procedures. Mainwaring is very angry when he learns that one of Never and Co’s loss adjusters, Fawlty, has told Slackenroe’s solicitors there is no entry in the accident book.

​​Very belatedly, Mainwaring conducts an investigation and eventually manages to contact Baldric. He takes advice from a very costly sports lawyer who advises unequivocally that the insurers are not entitled to void the policy. The insurers relent but only after a good deal of very expensive legal correspondence. Details of Slackenroe’s claim are “leaked” to the local newspaper the West Byfleet Enquirer, that in a front-page spread portrays Mainwaring and Baldric as unsympathetic incompetents.

Like all concerned, Mainwaring notes that the incident took place during a long, hot dry spell and that at the beginning of the season, the trees and shrubs adjacent to the Bainbridge tennis courts were extensively pruned. The club manager produces a receipted invoice signed by his assistant which confirms that the courts had been checked and swept an hour before the match started. Discreet inquiries reveal that although he did not go so far as instructing solicitors, last year Slackenroe made a similar claim against another club. Mainwaring suspects there is an element of gamesmanship.

​Having subsequently agreed that it will not void Bainbridge’s policy, Never and Co’s claims manager, Mr Tightwad, indicates that he is very suspicious of Slackenroe’s motives and is mindful that his solicitors have not produced anything to corroborate their contentions about their client’s “very significant injuries.” However, he points out that the fact that Slackenroe may or may not have made a similar claim in the past does not necessarily mean that there is no basis for his current claim. Additionally, he is still very concerned that Bainbridge did not follow its procedures and that there is nothing contemporaneous to challenge Slackenroe’s account of matters. He is supported by other members of the Bedrock team.

​Mainwaring, who is all too aware that Bainbridge’s insurance premiums could increase significantly and that there could be further damaging adverse publicity, is very concerned. However, he recalls that his expensive lawyer did mention the possibility of mediation. He writes to Bedrock on a without prejudice basis pointing out what he sees as the obvious deficiencies in Slackenroe’s case and suggests mediation. In Baldric’s continuing absence it is agreed that the mediation will be attended by Mainwaring, Slackenroe and Tightwad.

​During the mediation, without any hint of threat or menace and in the presence of all the interested parties Mainwaring takes the opportunity of being able to speak to Slackenroe direct. Very politely he highlights what he sees as the substantial defects in the latter’s case and makes it abundantly clear that he will not countenance any settlement that compromises his club’s integrity or results in increased expenditure. Equally, Mainwaring makes it clear that he will not agree to the match in question being replayed and with reference to the guidelines laid down by the West Byfleet Tennis League’s Rules Committee, points out that at the material time no one in the Bedrock team objected to continuing and to Slackenroe’s games being forfeited. This has the effect of prompting the opportunist Slackenroe to rethink and an agreement is reached in the following terms: –

​Slackenroe agrees to withdraw his claim for compensation against Bainbridge and also his attendant claims of negligence and incompetence.

⦁    Bainbridge apologises to Slackenroe for Baldric’s apparent indifference and lack of sympathy.

⦁    Bainbridge agrees that its committee members will meet with their insurers and a representative of the local LTA at the first available opportunity with a view to overhauling their safety and accident procedures.

⦁    Bedrock agrees to write to the local paper and to the LTA confirming that matters have been amicably resolved and withdrawing the request for the match to be replayed. The contents of these letters are settled before the mediation ends.

​It is also agreed that although the parties may explain to others that an amicable settlement has been reached, the terms of the agreement  will otherwise remain confidential. The agreement will only be shown to Bainbridge and Bedrock committee members upon them individually agreeing in writing to maintain confidentiality, the clubs’ auditors and to those involved in the case at Never and Co.

Paul Sandford is the Director of ASM PLUS, a sport, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and mediates online.

Andy Dowsett is a highly accomplished tennis coach, educator and writer.  A trusted and reliable source in the tennis world, in the course of a 30-year career he has trained over 3000 coaches. As well as authoring books on tennis, Andy has lectured around the world on his mini-tennis systems, educating coaches, and now parents, on how to bring the best out of players and keep them in the game. He and his organisation are committed to protecting the interests of their members by encouraging a take up of ADR services.