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The Law is Not in the Business of Discouraging High-Risk Adventure Sports

Adventure sports enthusiasts have a perfect right voluntarily to place themselves in danger and, as a High Court ruling showed, the law is not in the business of discouraging organisers of challenging and high-risk events.

The case concerned a very fit middle-aged woman who took part in a demanding obstacle race. She was swinging between monkey rings when she fell to the ground, suffering serious injuries to her right leg and shoulder. She sought compensation from the event's organisers on the basis that they had failed in their duty under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 to take reasonable care for her safety.

Ruling on the case, the Court noted that, prior to the event, she signed a waiver form by which she acknowledged that her participation gave rise to a risk of serious injury, even death. She knowingly and freely accepted all such risks. The Court, however, noted that, as a matter of law, the form could not exclude the organisers from liability if the accident arose from their negligence.

Dismissing her claim, however, the Court noted that the monkey ring obstacle was particularly challenging and many other participants had also fallen. She and others taking part in the event were given adequate instructions on how to embark on the obstacle. A hay landing cushion had been provided and a claim that it had not been properly spread, so as to prevent bare patches, was rejected.

The Court observed that accidents of this type are an inherent risk of participation in adventure sports events and that no amount of care and vigilance by organisers can eliminate the possibility of such risks materialising. The woman had elected to take part in the event and was well aware of the dangers involved. Although she deserved much sympathy for her grave misfortune, the fact that she landed badly and suffered serious injury was a matter of mere chance.