Those who organise adrenaline-fuelled and potentially dangerous sporting events are under a duty to keep participants reasonably safe. However, as a High Court case showed, that does not extend to warning them against obvious risks.
The case concerned an off-road motorcycling event which promised participants a tough but memorable day out. Towards the end of the day-long event, a rider lost control and hit a tree, suffering injuries which left him tetraplegic. He claimed that the front wheel of his bike had struck a rock or other obstacle concealed at the bottom of a muddy puddle, causing the handlebars to jerk violently from his hands.
After the man took action against the company that organised the event, his legal team argued, amongst other things, that there was a negligent failure to perform a risk assessment of the route taken. It was submitted that a detailed examination of the route prior to the event would have detected the hidden obstacle and that the failure to have due regard to the man’s safety amounted to a breach of contract.
In dismissing his claim, however, the Court noted that he had signed a declaration and indemnity before the event by which he confirmed his awareness that it would be physically demanding and dangerous and that participants would be at risk of serious injury or even death.
As an experienced rider, the inherent risk that something might lie hidden beneath muddy water would have been obvious to him, as it would be to any adult, and there was no requirement to warn him of such a hazard. The group of participants had been led by an entirely competent instructor and the route, which was a public byway, had been travelled many times before without incident.
The company argued successfully that it could not reasonably be expected to identify and guard against all hazards. Conducting detailed risk assessments and instructing riders on how to negotiate every part of the route would negate the experience for which they had signed up. The event had been organised with due regard to safety and the company had not breached its duty of care.
The Court found that, in any event, the man had failed to establish that a concealed obstacle was the cause of his accident. He was aware of the risks as he approached the puddle and made his own assessment of how to negotiate it. He had freely taken part in the event and the probable cause of the accident was rider error.