Man can sue Dublin boxing club as he did not have member status, judge rules

A club, as an unincorporated association of persons, cannot be sued by one of its members

A man can proceed to sue a Dublin boxing club claiming he sustained injuries when he was allegedly assaulted by an individual during a club trip to Spain, the High Court has ruled.

It is a long-standing legal principle that a club, as an unincorporated association of persons, cannot be sued by one of its members.

In a judgment published on Monday, Ms Justice Siobhán Phelan ruled that, while Glenn Doyle considered himself to be a member of Crumlin Boxing Club and was treated like a member by the club, he did not have the legal status of being a member at the time of the alleged incident in June 2017.

This is because Mr Doyle, of Windmill Crescent, Crumlin, Dublin 12, was not entered on to the register of members, did not enjoy all the member benefits and did not pay a membership fee, she held.


The judge said it will be a matter for the judge hearing the substantial case to determine whether the club has any liability for Mr Doyle’s injuries allegedly sustained in an assault by a man who is not a party to the proceedings and who, it appears, may also not have been a member of the club while on the trip.

However, she found, as a preliminary issue in the action, the club is not protected from being sued because of Mr Doyle’s membership, as his member status has not been established.

The judge said the “chilling effect” of exposure to lawsuits for clubs and associations is best avoided or minimised through clear rules of membership and adherence to those rules.

There were few clear rules of membership here, but there is no evidence these were complied with by either the club or Mr Doyle.

Mr Doyle has sued Crumlin Boxing Club and the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) alleging he sustained a fractured jaw and damage to his teeth, requiring hospitalisation, due to an alleged assault by an individual while on a club trip to Benidorm in June 2017.

The club sought to argue it had no liability in law or fact for Mr Doyle’s alleged injuries as it claimed he was stopped from maintaining his case under his membership.

This issue was tried as a preliminary point, with Mr Doyle saying he had been a member since the age of 19 but his status changed when he assumed the role as a coach paid informally.

The court heard, from a witness on behalf of the club, that coaches are members of the club and their reward for this volunteering is access to the club’s facilities without having to pay subscriptions.

The insurance covers members, which is why a person must be a member to be covered by insurance, the club submitted.

Ruling, the judge found the club does not have a written constitution or a rule book governing membership and the only rules contained are those on its application form or posted to the walls of the club.

Mr Doyle joined the club in 2006 and again in 2012, but it was not established he paid the annual fee in any year, while he paid subscriptions sporadically before becoming a coach, she held.

The IABA, of which the club is a member, requires clubs to maintain their registration books with member names and details, which the judge was satisfied this club did not do. Instead, she said, the club operated a system of sign-in books and maintained files on each member which it conflated with a membership book.

It is clear Crumlin Boxing Club is committed to teaching skills to its members and making its facilities accessible to the socially disadvantaged community it serves, the judge said. It is weak on paperwork and on agreeing and applying rules, which is “problematic” despite it being understandable given the nature of the volunteer effort, she said.

The judge said she recognises onerous rules requirements for clubs can have a chilling effect. However, such rules do not need to be elaborate, they just need to be clear.

A club that does not have clear membership rules or does not properly apply them loses control over its membership and does not properly protect the people with whom it engages, she added.

Mr Doyle’s case has been adjourned.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter