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Legal case

No fault conclusion in claim against organisers of survival race

The claimant, sustained serious injury to her right leg and right shoulder after falling from monkey rings at the Bear Grylls Survival Race.

Margot Eraine Harrison v Intuitive Business Consultants Limited and others

Executive summary

The High Court confirmed that the organisers of a five kilometre obstacle course were not liable for the injuries of a participant.

The facts

The claimant, a former gymnast, sustained serious injury to her right leg and right shoulder after falling from monkey rings at the Bear Grylls Survival Race in Enfield, London in October 2016. The claimant’s case was that the defendants were liable for her injuries and consequential loss in that they had breached section 2 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 by failing to take reasonable care for her safety. The defendants denied any fault arguing that the claimant’s injuries, whilst unfortunate, were the result of the inherent risks associated with that type of adventurous activity.

The race was designed for participants of mixed abilities to navigate a 20 obstacle course which included climbing, crawling and carrying items as well as survival challenges including using air rifles, fire lighting and weight carrying. The particular part of the course subject to the litigation was known as “the jungle” and required participants to test their grip and upper body strength by crossing between two raised platforms, linked by monkey rings.

Risk assessments for the course were in place which identified the risk of harm as being “high” and the severity of the harm as “medium”. Control measures were therefore introduced to reduce the risk rating to “low”, although the severity of harm remained “medium”. The basis of the claimant’s case was that whilst it was acknowledged that she had signed a liability waiver form in anticipation of the event, the defendants had failed to implement the control measures set out in their own risk assessment. The claimant maintained that she was not given proper instruction as to the safe way to exit the 1.5 metre platform onto the monkey rings. Further, the claimant maintained that the ground underneath was insufficiently cushioned to protect her from injury in the event that she fell.

The risk assessment noted that the exit from the platform should have been from a seated position, not a standing one. This was on the basis that the force of gravity when exiting from a standing position would inevitably overwhelm a participant’s ability to maintain a grip on the monkey rings whereas the effect would be much reduced from a seated or squatting position.

The defendants’ case was that following two earlier accidents of similar circumstances to the claimant’s, steps were taken to try to reduce injury further by lowering the exiting platform from 2 metres to 1.5 metres and installing a heel bar making a push off from a seated position easier. They maintained that the control measures in place were sufficient to ensure that reasonable care was being taken for the safety of the participants.

High Court judgement 26 August 2021

His Honour Judge Freedman, having heard all the evidence, was satisfied that the defendants owed a duty under section 2 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the claimant were reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which she was invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.

He found that the defendants duty extended to providing a reasonably safe landing in the event a participant came off the monkey rings. Whilst he noted that none of the claimant’s witnesses observed the hay being re-distributed, it did not mean that it did not happen. He concluded that had there been a failure on the defendants’ behalf, which could not be proved, causation had not been established.

He also found that the defendants’ duty also included instructions to be given as to the appropriate method to be adopted when setting out from the platform onto the monkey rings. That, however, did not equate to a duty to mandate the claimant (or other participants) to adopt a seated position but merely give instructions to that effect. He said, once the defendants themselves stipulate that clear and concise instructions must be given to all participants taking part as to various matters including an instruction to swing out from a seated position, then they have assumed a responsibility to give such instruction, as part and parcel of their obligation to take reasonable steps for the safety of the participants in the obstacle race.

He found that it was sufficient for the defendants to discharge their duty of care by the marshals giving instructions, generally, to those standing on the platform waiting to set off on the rings. It was the defendants’ intention that each individual would be alerted to the instructions and advice which was being offered but there was no requirement for the marshals to satisfy themselves that in each and every case, the instructions had been heard.

He concluded that the claimant had successfully grabbed hold of the first ring and whilst she was in the process of taking hold of the second ring, she fell to the ground. He found that once the claimant had secured a grip on the first ring, she had effectively transferred onto the obstacle and her movement from the platform had been completed. That being so, whether she started from a standing or sitting position ceased to be of relevance. To put it another way, the fall which subsequently occurred was occasioned by loss of grip or impaired strength rather than the movement from a standing position on the platform onto the first ring.

In conclusion, he found that the claimant’s accident was not occasioned by any fault of the defendants and that this was an unfortunate accident resulting in very serious injuries. Accidents of this type are an inherent risk of participation in such activities 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. The claimant was aware of a risk and had signed an indemnity. He added that the claimant had elected to participate in the Bear Grylls race and, whilst, of course, she did not expect to suffer any injury when doing so, it was a risk of which she was well aware when she registered for the event and signed the indemnity.

He said most participants had fallen off the monkey rings at some stage of participation and the vast majority, of course, suffered no injury but in the end, it is a matter of chance as to how well or badly an individual may land on the ground.

In such circumstances, the defendants had done enough to show that they had taken reasonable care and as such the claimant’s claim failed.

Commentary

The Bear Gylls Survival Race is not for the fainthearted. It is a challenging course, which tests one’s physical and mental strength.

The activities involved carry some inherent risk of injury, which participants are fully aware of when signing up to take on the course. No amount of care and vigilance on the part of the event organisers and planners can eliminate the possibility of such risks materialising from time to time. That being said, the defendants still owed the claimant a duty to take reasonable care to protect her against injury and they did so.

The case is an important reminder for defendants that having good health and safety procedures in place is key to avoiding liability. The event organisers in this case, had carefully planned an event and took health and safety very seriously. They carried out a number of risk assessments and had taken steps to reduce the risk of injury.

As such it echoes the Weightmans’ Court of Appeal case of Poppleton in 2008 when Lord Justice May stated ”Adults who choose to engage in physical activities which obviously give rise to a degree of unavoidable risk may find that they have no means of recompense if the risk materialises so that they are injured.”

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