19 July, 2018
Philip Clarke v John Kerwin (T/A Dirtbike Action) (2018)CC (Carlisle) (Judge Peter Hughes QC) 26/04/2018
A claim for personal injury was dismissed after the Court found that the true cause of an accident occurring at a motorcycle event was the dangerously high speed at which the claimant had attempted to overtake other riders.
The claimant participated in an all-terrain motorcycle event organised by the defendant on land owned by the Forestry Commission at Kielder Forest in Northumbria. The main event comprised of two laps over a circuit of the forest, part on public roads and part on forestry roads and tracks. It was not intended to be a race between participants and no prizes were awarded. The course was subject to a speed limit imposed by the Forestry Commission of 20 or 25mph other than on public roads.
On the day of the accident, the claimant who was not an experienced rider, did not attend the morning briefing. Shortly after commencing the rally the claimant's bike left the surface of the road and went into a ditch, propelling him over the handlebars. He landed heavily and sustained serious injuries to his spine and left wrist.
The claimant contended that the defendant had failed to carry out a proper inspection and risk assessment of the course. He submitted that if such had taken place then the potential hazard of the open ditch would have been recognised. It was also suggested that the hazard ought to have been clearly marked, or if this was not feasible, a different route should have been selected.
The Judge described that the real issue in the case concerned the balance between the extent of the duty of care owed by the organiser of the event and the degree of risk that the participant had willingly accepted by taking part. He found that the accident was caused by the claimant losing control of his bike as he attempted to overtake at speed on the bend. In doing so, he lost control of his bike on the looser surface towards the edge of the track and skidded off the road and into the open ditch.
The Judge proceeded to consider whether the defendant should bear any responsibility for the accident. He noted that the open ditch did not constitute a hazard and he concluded that it was for the individual rider to adjust his speed to meet the conditions, and that there was no duty to enforce the speed limit set by the Forestry Commission. The accident was caused by the claimant's "own stupidity".
This is a useful case for defendants which considers the extent of the duty owed by organisers of sporting events.
The defendant had attempted to rely on the terms and conditions attached to the registration form seeking even to exclude liability for risks involving negligence on the part of the organisers or officials. At trial this was rightly abandoned. In such cases defendants cannot avoid liability for negligence for which they are directly or vicariously liable.
Ultimately, the Judgment reiterates that organisers owe only a 'reasonable' duty of care to participants. There is no duty to warn of risks that are plain and obvious. Willing participants must recognise the inherent risks and be prepared take responsibility for their own actions.