No point for Falling Fencer: A score by a falling fencer is disallowed if the touch occurs during or after a fall by such fencer. Rule t.87.2 states that touches made during or after a fall are “irregular actions” that are forbidden and that “any touch scored by the fencer at fault is annulled.” The rule is a strict test (does not distinguish intentional versus accident), probably so that the referee is not put in the position of subjectively evaluating “anti-sporting behavior” (e.g., a dangerous dive to hit the opponent vs. simply losing balance).
Penalty Card: In addition to the score being annulled, the falling fencer receives a penalty card (yellow, if it is the first penalty) if a touch is made by the falling fencer. Rule t.120 (the “Penalty Chart”) explicitly provides that “touches made during or after a fall” is an abnormal fencing action and a 1st Group Penalty (1st offense being a Yellow Card). Please note the oddity: if the falling fencer did not score a touch, he/she does not receive a penalty.
Just a Fall: A simple fall, without a touch from either fencer, results in a “halt” with no penalties. Of course, an intentional fall (e.g., to avoid a hit), which would be in the judgment of the referee (it probably would need to be egregious/obvious), could result in a card or warning under the Penalty Chart for “disorderly fencing” or “anti-sporting behavior.”
What Constitutes Falling: Interestingly, Rule t.21.1 states that “Displacing the target and ducking are allowed even if during the action the unarmed hand and/or knee of the back leg comes into contact with the strip.” In other words, a mere hand or knee touching the floor, by itself, is not “falling” under Rules t.87.2 and t.120 – so, such a fencer can score a touch this way. It appears that under the rules the referee must be careful in distinguishing whether a fencer actually “falls” (off balance) versus merely using the strip to assist the fencer in maintaining his/her balance (often, just one hand or one knee touching the floor). Although difficult to distinguish through words, the referee must make a judgment using Justice Potter’s “I know it when I see it” formula.
Fall After the Touch: A fencer who makes a touch and then, subsequently, loses balance and falls, is not a “falling fencer.” No penalty, score counts. In this case, a referee must be able to see the separation of the two actions—a touch, and then afterwards the fencer losing balance and falling (Rule t.87.2: touch was not made during (or after) a falling). This may be a fairly tough call for the referee—a fencer may have lost balance before the touch, but only afterwards falls (after struggling to stay up). If the process of falling started before the touch and the falling continued (uninterrupted/unrecovered and within a reasonable passage of time) until the actual fall to the floor itself occurs, the annulment of score and the penalty should be applied. Justice Potter’s “I know it when I see it” test may again need to be used.
Touch by the Opponent to a Falling Fencer: An opponent is permitted to hit a falling fencer. Thus, when the referee calls “halt” when a fencer falls, a touch resulting from an action by the non-falling opponent that began before the “halt” counts (i.e., the opponent can complete the action he/started before “halt”). Thus, in the circumstances described, if both fencers make a touch, only the opponent of the falling fencer scores (the falling fencer’s touch is annulled and also receives a penalty); if only the opponent makes a touch, the opponent scores (but the falling fencer does not receive a penalty, since he/she did not make a touch).