Extent of the Organisers' Duty of Care in Dangerous Sporting Activities

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29 May, 2020

The High Court has considered the extent of the need for an organiser of an "enduro day", an off-road motorcycling event, to undertake risk assessments in relation to situations where there is an inherent and obvious risk of which the Claimant was aware. The case has wider implications for all "dangerous" sporting activities.

The conclusion in the case of Christopher Andrew Wells v Full Moon Events Ltd (t/a Dave Thorpe Honda Off-Road Centre) (1) and Thorpe Honda Off-Road Centre Ltd (2) [2020] EWHC 1265 (QB) was that the Claimant had not proved the cause of his accident, so he failed in his claim, but it is the obiter comments about what issues would have arisen had the judge accepted the cause of the accident that are of particular and more general interest.

The claimant brought his claim in negligence against an off-road motorcycling centre, seeking damages for personal injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.

The brief summary of the facts were as follows:

  • The accident occurred while the claimant was taking part in an off-road motorcycle event run by the centre.
  • The event, known as an "enduro day", was non-competitive and involved groups of riders, each led by an instructor, riding for approximately 20 miles over varied terrain.
  • The route varied depending on the ability of the riders in the group, as assessed by the instructor before they set off, and the riding conditions differed according to the weather and the amount of previous traffic.
  • The trails were often muddy or puddled.
  • Before taking part, the claimant, who described himself as an experienced and competent off-road motorcyclist, completed a "signing-on form" and indemnity whereby he acknowledged that motorsports were hazardous and accepted the risk of injury arising from his participation.
  • The itinerary for the event indicated that the day would be tough and challenging "while always safe".
  • When riding with his group in single file along a forest byway open to all traffic, the claimant rode through a muddy puddle.
  • He claimed that the front wheel of his motorcycle struck an object concealed under the water, causing him to lose control, fall and sustain catastrophic injuries.
  • He alleged that the accident was caused by the centre's negligence or breach of an implied contractual term that it would organise the event with due regard to his safety.
  • Essentially, he alleged that the centre should have carried out a risk assessment in relation to the byway, and that the instructor leading his group should have given guidance about how they should negotiate the byway and/or warned of the possible presence of submerged obstacles in the puddles on the track.
  • The centre denied any negligence or breach. It pointed to the claimant's acceptance of the risks and, although it did not admit the circumstances of the accident, argued that it owed no duty in respect of the obvious risk posed by the possible presence of obstacles in muddy puddles.

Whilst the mechanism of the accident was not proved, so the claim failed the court went on to consider the extent of the duty of care owed had the mechanism been proved.

By the Claimant's own evidence he accepted that there was an inherent risk in off-road motor cycling. He also accepted that he was aware of the risks at the particular location where his accident occurred. The court stated that whilst the Defendant had a duty of care to organise the "enduro day" with regard to the safety of the Claimant, "that duty did not extend either to carrying out a risk assessment in relation to the path on which the Claimant had his accident or to warn him about an inherent and obvious risk of which he was already aware".

The duty is to ensure the reasonable safety of the Claimant in relation to risks that were not obvious, and even if there was a duty to warn it would have been of no assistance to the Claimant who was already aware of the risks by his own evidence.

The court also said that undertaking detailed risk assessments identifying all hazards and guarding against all hazards, instructing experienced riders on how to negotiate all sections of the course, or avoid parts of the course that would ordinarily be regarded as part of the off-road experience would negate the "enduro day" experience and be an unreasonable requirement on the Defendant.

Forbes Comment

Off-road motorcycling is a hazardous activity along with many other sporting activities. The court in this case referred to the social value of such activities. Whilst organisers of such events have a duty of care to ensure the reasonable safety of those participating, that duty is not absolute and does not guarantee the safety of participants.

Whether it be off-road motor cycling, skiing, or any other potentially hazardous activity, courts take into account the particular circumstances, including what is reasonable to expect the organiser to have done, the experience of the claimant and the social value of the activity. For an example of Forbes in action in relation to such claims please see the Forbes at Trial report elsewhere in this publication, on Nick Holgate's successful defence of an accident on a ski slope, which can be found here.

For more information contact Nick Holgate 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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