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Polo lawsuit closes with a £5m bill

A controversial French civil suit, claiming more than £5million against former England polo captain Howard Hipwood, has finally settled out of court.

Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) chief executive David Woodd told Horse & Hound an offer made to French merchant banker Alain Bernard just before Christmas by solicitors representing HPA insurer Royal Sun Alliance was signed this month.

The settlement provides Mr Bernard with £5m, plus £60,000 legal costs.

“All those involved are relieved that a settlement has been reached and I very much hope it will enable Mr Bernard to be well looked after,” said Mr Woodd.

Mr Bernard suffered serious disabilities after falling from his pony following a ride-off with Mr Hipwood during a match in Deauville on 10 August 1997.

Mr Hipwood, as an HPA member, was covered by player-to-player insurance of up to £5m. But as a result of Mr Bernard’s claim — the first of its kind in polo — the HPA is no longer able to obtain this type of cover for its members.

The legal battle, successfully defended at the French Court of First Instance in Caen in September 2000, went as far as the French Supreme Court — equivalent of the House of Lords — after the Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s decision.

In June 2004, Mr Hipwood submitted that the Court of Appeal had failed to consider evidence that he committed no foul, but the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. He was playing for Los Tamaraos at the time of the accident.

The Supreme Court found him culpable of “an aggressive act contrary to fair play and sporting spirit, which went beyond the danger inherent to this sport and accepted by players of this sport”.

Mr Hipwood told H&H he was relieved the case was finally closed, but felt the legal ramifications of the case went “far beyond polo”, adding: “This leaves a lot of unanswered questions.”

He stressed that it was absurd a court could make a decision contrary to those of the sport’s own umpires.

  • This report was first published in Horse & Hound (27 July, ’06)
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