When adventures go wrong

Who bears the liabilities related to engaging in hazardous activities for fun? We consider the recent case of Wilson v Clyne Farm Centre. 

13 June 2013

The recent case of Wilson v Clyne Farm Centre considered whether an adult engaging in a an activity which obviously involved a degree of unavoidable risk would have recourse in the event of injury. Previously in the 2008 Court of Appeal case of Poppleton v Trustees of the Portsmouth Youth Activities Committee the position was that the individual did not. The circumstances in that case involved an injury to an individual who was 'bouldering' without any instruction or supervision and was injured. However the Wilson case appears to swing responsibility back on to the event instructors. 

Clyne Farm Centre is an outdoor activity centre, one of the activities it offers is a cross country assault course which involved a climb to a platform, walk across a rope bridge and a descent down a fireman’s pole. The Claimant had successfully navigated the course up until this descent which did not go according to plan and resulted in a severe burst fracture of the first vertebra, resulting in surgery and continuing disability. 

The event instructors had demonstrated both the climb and the rope bridge walk, but not the pole descent, on the grounds that the method was obvious. The instruction was limited to oral advice to 'hug the pole' which was contrary to the written Risk Assessment which required a demonstration emphasising the importance of holding the pole with both hands and wrapping both legs around it before descending. The Court found that failing to do this was a breach of duty, the risk was not obvious and had clear and specific instruction been given, accompanied by a demonstration, the accident would not have happened.  

Therefore whilst the starting point may be that an adult must take on board a voluntary assumption of risk in such obvious circumstances, that is not the end of the matter. In particular where, as in the Clyne case unlike Poppleton there was an assumption of responsibility by the organisers in the provision of some level of instruction.  If instruction is given, it must be given with reasonable care. A failure to do so breaches the assumed duty and relying on the assertion that the risk was obvious may not be sufficient to avoid liability.

Key contact

Ann Metherall

Ann Metherall Partner

  • Head of Dispute Resolution
  • Head of Health and Safety
  • Transport

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