Blair-Ford v CRS Adventures Ltd (2012): Duty of Care Not Breached by Tragic, Freak AccidentThursday 16th August 2012
As previous articles have warned, it is essential for an employer or organiser to undertake a risk assessment when they put on an event. But what would happen if a risk assessment is carried out, but during the event, the way that an exercise is conducted is modified? That was the question that the High Court had to address in the recent case of Blair-Ford v CRS Adventures Ltd.
In that case, a teacher taking part in a week long adventure course with students was injured during the final 'mini-olympic' fun event. This 'welly-wanging' event involved the participants throwing a welly as far as they could. In order to ensure the teacher did not have an advantage over the pupils in his throw, one of the organising instructors told him to throw it backwards between his legs. No further instructions were given. The teacher grasped the welly with both hands and threw it with such force that he slipped forward, hitting his head on the ground and suffering permanent tetraplegia.
In deciding his claim against the event organisers, the court considered the fact that, while a risk assessment had been conducted before the event, no assessment was undertaken in relation to the modified welly-wanging instructions that were given to ensure the teacher did not have an advantage over the pupils. While a failure to conduct such an assessment would generally result in a finding for the claimant, in this case it was not decisive.
In this specific case, the risk of injury was so slight that it was not necessary to take steps to guard against it given the fact that a general pre-event assessment had been conducted and a dynamic on the ground assessment of the modified activity was acceptable. In the words of the court, the likelihood of an accident of the kind that occurred was 'lacking such reality that it could have been disregarded'. Thus, in this case at least, there was not a foreseeable risk that any reasonable person would have considered. Therefore, no one was to blame for what was ultimately a tragic and freak accident.
Event organisers should not see this as a potential excuse for not conducting a comprehensive risk assessment. On the contrary, it was only because a genuine risk assessment had been undertaken that the defendant was able to escape liability. If an assessment had not been conducted, the organiser would not have considered any, let alone extraordinary, dangers and would have found themselves potentially open to liability for even freak accidents such as this one.
Ashfords' Personal Injury Team has extensive experience in all areas of personal injury claims, ranging from accidents on public property or at work to road traffic accidents and clinical negligence. If you face such a claim and would like to discuss the options available to you, please contact Flora Wood, on 01392 334020 or Elizabeth Johnson, on 01392 334019.
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