Extreme Challenges – Liability for Injuries

October 1, 2021

In recent years the appetite for extreme (amateur) sporting competitions has grown massively. From mud runs, obstacle courses, and ultra-marathons – there seems to be endless opportunities for someone to run around in the freezing cold, caked in mud, and generally pushing their bodies to the limit. But what if you are injured during one of these events? Can you sue the race organisers for personal injuries?

In almost all of these events competitors will be required to complete some form of indemnity or disclaimer before taking part. The effectiveness of such documents is a matter for debate. There is a general rule of common law that one cannot exclude liability for personal injuries or death caused by one’s own negligence. So what good does the indemnity or disclaimer do? And how far do organisers have to go to protect competitors from the risks involved in the event?

The issue was considered recently in the UK case of Harrison v. Intuitive Business Consultants Limited. The claimant was competing in a ‘Bear Grylls Survival Race’ when she fell from one of the obstacles (the ‘monkey rings’). The claimant argued that the organisers had not been given proper instruction as to how to use the ‘monkey rings’ and that the organisers had not adequately distributed hay to provide a softer landing.

The English High Court dismissed the claim. Judge Jeremy Freedman concluded the accident was “not occasioned by any fault on the part of the defendants”. Essentially, it appears that most of the competitors fell off the ‘monkey rings’ at some point and how they fell was really a matter of chance. The judge concluded that: “accidents of this type are an inherent risk of participation in activities such as obstacle races; and no amount of care and vigilance on the part of the organisers and planners of such events can eliminate the possibility of such risks materialising from time to time.” Mr Justice Freedman considered the claimant was aware of the risk having signed an “indemnity”.

This case does not mean that organisers have no duties to their competitors. Of course the event must be properly risk assessed and reasonable measures taken to mitigate risks. If organisers are negligent, whether in this regard or in any other (such as a failure to give proper instructions, or a failure to properly maintain equipment) then no indemnity or disclaimer will save them. However, where a particular event involves an obvious and inherent risk an indemnity or disclaimer will be useful in demonstrating that the competitor understood the inherent risks and chose to accept them.

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