Paraplegic mountain biker wins case against instructor

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31 January, 2017

Asif Ahmed v Leon McClean 2016 EWHC 2798 QB

In this tragic case, the claimant was left paraplegic after falling during a mountain bike tuition course run by the defendant.

The claimant took part in a beginners' mountain bike tuition course. The website described that the beginners' skills course was,

"…ideal for the complete novice or those wishing to progress their riding. Our aims are to enable the participant, to ride more technically demanding terrain in a safer/controlled manner."

Unfortunately, whilst the claimant was cycling down a slope he went over the top of the handlebars, and suffered extremely serious personal injuries. The claimant alleged that his personal injuries were caused by the negligence and/or breach of contract of the defendant, by having failed to take reasonable care of his safety on the course.

The Judge agreed that the defendant was at least in part liable to the claimant for this accident, in that the accident was caused by his failure to carry out his tuition with reasonable skill and care, so as to enable the claimant to ride down the slope safely.

In summary, he found;

  • the defendant had failed to carry out an adequate assessment of the claimant's individual skill level at the commencement of the course,
  • the defendant progressed the tuition, without sufficient regard to the claimant's capabilities;
  • he failed to make sufficient assessments of the claimant's ability to undertake the skills he was being taught,
  • failed to teach the skills required to negotiate the slope where the accident took place in safety, and
  • encouraged the claimant to descend the slop at a speed which was likely to enhance the risk of serious harm being caused to him.

On this issue of contributory negligence, the defendant contended that the claimant was also to blame for not indicating that he considered that it was beyond his capacity to ride down the slope safely. The Judge appreciated that the claimant was a novice, but this did not abdicate him completely from responsibility for his own safety. Noting that the claimant ought to have had some appreciation of his own ability to ride down the slope in question. A deduction of 20% was therefore made in respect of contributory negligence.

The Judge indicated that he would have awarded a greater deduction but for the false reassurance that the defendant had provided to the claim. Following the first descent of the slope the defendant informed the claimant that his technique was ok, and furthermore he also advised that on his next descent that he should ride down the slope at greater speed. The Judge accepted that these two matters would have been likely to have provided a measure of false reassurance to the claimant as to his ability to ride down the slope again in safety.

Forbes comment

This is an interesting case which provides an insight into the duty of care between instructors and students participating in dangerous sports. Whilst cases such as this turn on the facts, this case provided some guidance:

  • instructors are expected to evaluate each student to assess their level of experience at the outset of a course and throughout the training;
  • instructors should ensure that students have the understanding and skills to attempt actions with reasonable safety;
  • students must also take some responsibility for their own actions and where they do not have the skills for a particular activity they have an obligation to raise this with the instructor.

For more information contact Sarah Wilkinson in our Insurance department via email or phone on 01254 662831. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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