Duty of Care in Sporting Events: Mitigating Risk
Risk management is a top priority for the organisers of sports events. They are acutely aware of the need to balance an interesting and exciting event with the safety and security of participants.
Part of the risk identification and management process for any event must be to make participants aware of potential hazards, and as well as putting into place safety measures and adequate warnings, organisers can explore a range of insurance coverages to transfer some of that risk.
But participants themselves must also take a degree of responsibility for their own risk management. A recent court judgement clarified the extent of the duty of care event organisers owe to participants, and the extent to which participants accept the risk of injury.
In the case of Clarke v John Kerwin, the judge found that while organisers must take steps to mitigate the risks to those taking part in events, there is a balance to be struck. That duty of care, the judge decided, must be reasonable and participants too must be aware of the risks they are accepting and take reasonable steps to ensure their own safety and that of others.
The case centered on a two-day motorcycle rally through the Kielder forest in Northumberland. The claimant was injured when he fell into a ditch while attempting to overtake another rider, at speed, on a bend in the course.
The claimant – who had, on registering for the event, been given a booklet about speed limits for the course and general warnings about the need to be on the lookout for hazards – alleged that the event organiser was in breach of the Health and Safety at Work regulations 1999.
He said the event organiser had failed to carry out a proper inspection of the course and that hazards were not adequately signaled.
The defendant, however, argued that the claimant had voluntarily accepted the risks inherent in taking part in the event and, furthermore, had been driving too fast for the conditions and had lost control of his bike.
The risk mitigation material given to the claimant by the defendant proved to be the lynchpin of the case – and a beacon for other sports event organisers tackling this issue.
The judge concluded that the claimant had lost control of his bike because he was attempting to overtake at excessive speed round a bend and that he should have been aware of the risks had he read the booklet given to him by the organisers.
The claim was dismissed.
The judgement brings clarity to event organisers about the extent of the duty of care they owe to participants. A reasonable duty of care is owed, the judgement reminds us, but participants have responsibility for their own actions.
Marsh currently works with a number of event owners and event organisers to identify, evaluate and, mitigate event-related risks, including the provision of the appropriate insurance covers.