Risks willingly accepted by the visitor
Grizedale Forest Mountain Bike Boardwalk Case
The Forestry Commission, a VSCG member, manages the North Face Mountain Bike Trail on the west side of Grizedale Forest in the Lake District National Park.
The trail is for experienced mountain bikers and has a RED (Difficult) grade. It is suitable for proficient mountain bikers with good off-road riding skills and fitness. The trail has challenging climbs, tricky descents and technical features such as drop offs and large rocks. The challenging trail also gives the mountain biker tricky board walk sections through meadows.
Christopher Hood was injured on the 20 November 2013 when his bike slipped off a boardwalk on the North Face trail. In the fall he fractured his right tibia and fibula.
As he was coming to the end of a boardwalk section, the route lead to the right; he was leaning and turning to the right when the rear wheel of his bike slipped off the boardwalk causing him to fall.
He claimed that the boardwalk section was unsafe; that cross-hatching or groove-scoring to prevent slippage on the boardwalk had worn; that no other safety measures had been deployed to prevent cyclists from coming off the trail; that the boardwalk had either not been maintained or not properly maintained; and that as a result of these failures, he suffered his accident and consequential injury. The claim was made under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957 and also under common law.
The Judge decided that it was more likely than not that this accident was caused due to the mountain biker misjudging his exit from the boardwalk and not due to any failure on the part of the Forestry Commission.
Mr Hood was an experienced rider who had read the signs grading the North Face trail and its level of difficulty. He knew that riding it was an inherently dangerous and risky activity.
Subsection (5) of Section 2 Occupiers Liability Act 1957 says that: ‘The common duty of care does not impose on an occupier any obligation to a visitor in respect of risks willingly accepted as his by the visitor.’
The nature of these trails is to provide a thrill, a challenge; dangers are always going to be present and the Claimant willingly accepted that.
The duty upon the Forestry Commission is not absolute; it is not strict; it is to take reasonable care in all the circumstances.
There was some discussion about the adequacy of grooving and cross-hatching on the surface of the board walk. However, the judge ruled that the cross-hatching was not the only mechanism which provided protection from slipping and that the duty under Section.2 Occupier’s Liability 1957 did not actually require the installation of grooving or cross-hatching in any event: ‘it was an additional safety feature installed to prevent slippage but it does not follow that slippage itself was an identified hazard that had to be guarded against at all costs.’ Such a standard would, in any case, take away the element of thrill and challenge that riders seek.
v Forestry Commission [B58YX820] [March 2017]
This case law entry was written by Ken Dodd VSCG Chairman and was published in November 2018
This website entry was last updated on 6 November, 2018