Participation in organised events where participants navigate obstacles and survival challenges remains popular. By their very nature, these events are physically demanding and involve obstacles and activities giving rise to possible risk of injury. On occasion injury does occur and although a participant has voluntarily taken part in the event, they may look to secure compensation from its organiser.
From time to time we see reported judgements where the courts have considered this issue. One such recent English case was Margot Eraine Harrison, Intuitive Business Consultants Limited (Successor in title to SR UK Ventures Limited [t/a ‘Bear Grylls Survival Race”]) v Big Bang Promotions International Limited, Beyond the Ultimate Limited ( EWHC 2396 (QB).
Margot Harrison was injured on 8 October 2016 while taking part in the ‘Bear Grylls Survival Race’ in North London. The event comprised of obstacles and survival challenges situated over 5k and 10k distances.
The claimant was attempting an elevated monkey ring obstacle when she fell to the ground below and suffered injury to her right leg and right shoulder. The event was organised by the first defendants, who subcontracted with the second defendants to design the course and its obstacles, to plan and manage the race, to provide staff and to risk assess the obstacles.
The claimant based her damages claim on section 2 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 in respect that the defendants failed to take reasonable care for her safety. Liability was denied and causation was similarly in dispute.
This particular obstacle, which involved participants swinging between rings from one elevated platform to another, was known to be challenging and most participants fell when attempting it. Two marshals on the starter platform provided general advice as to the position a participant should adopt in order to access the first monkey ring. The presence of marshals providing general instruction was one ‘control measure’ identified in the risk assessment. The presence of a ‘heel bar’, which assisted with a participant’s departure from the platform, was another.
The claimant argued the defendants failed to implement those control measures and so were in breach of their duties of care under the 1957 Act. Her evidence was she did not hear any instruction from the marshal as to how to set off from the platform (and specifically that it should be done from a ‘sitting’ position) and was unaware of the presence of a heel bar. However, the claimant had stated previously she did not believe advice was required as she could see from other participants how the obstacle was attempted.
Evidence was also led from the marshal on the platform at the time of the accident, who was clear that she had been briefed to provide general guidance to participants on the platform and there was no reason why this would not have been done. Photographic evidence of her on the platform ’pointing downwards’ when the claimant was close by supported this.
An element of risk attached to participation in this event, but a risk assessment had been conducted and control measures put in place. The judge’s view was those control measures were sufficient so to demonstrate the defendants were taking reasonable care for the safety of participants. The judge observed participants in this event do so on a voluntary basis and were not obliged to attempt each obstacle. An alternative ‘forfeit’ activity was available if an obstacle was to be missed.
Having heard evidence, the judge’s view was the claimant’s injuries were the result of her losing her grip on what was a challenging obstacle. Had liability attached, the judge would not have found there to be any contributory negligence on the part of the claimant. Most participants fell from the monkey rings. In leaving the platform as she did, she was following the technique adopted by other participants.
The court concluded the accident was unfortunate but it could not be said to have been caused by any fault on the part of the defendants. In activities such as this, an element of risk exists and will materialise occasionally. The claimant was aware of such risk when she volunteered to take part in the event.
Of importance in cases where individuals take part in events involving physical challenges is whether any breach of duty can actually be said to be causative of the accident. Participants will often be unable to complete every obstacle but that is not necessarily a result of any failure on the part of the organiser or other defendant/defender. Assessment of risk is also key.
From Harrison, personal injury practitioners across the UK see the outcome of cases such as this will depend on the specific facts.
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