Summary

Blaine Murphy was badly injured as a spectator at the Galway International Rally in 2005 and brought High Court proceedings to be compensated for those injuries. The High Court made an award and assigned blame to Mr Murphy of 66%, with 33% blameworthiness being assigned to the organisers of the rally, Motorsport Ireland and the motorsport safety team responsible for safety at the rally.

Mr Murphy appealed the award and the apportionment of liability to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal reduced Mr Murphy’s blameworthiness to just 25% and apportioned 75% to Galway Motor Club, Motorsport Ireland and Motor Sport Safety Team. The Court of Appeal also increased the value of the award made to Mr Murphy.

The decision of the Court of Appeal imposes a much stricter liability on rally organisers, Motorsport Ireland and motorsport safety teams in assessing risks associated with rallies and the welfare of spectators at those rallies.

Background

Mr Murphy was a 19 year old trainee plumber in 2005 when he attended the Galway International Rally with three of his friends. He was familiar with the workings of a rally having spectated with his father when he was a child and attended at a further three rallies as an adult. He was keen to obtain some action photos. Initially he positioned himself at a location that had other spectators and a rally marshal stationed close by. After obtaining some footage at this location, the group decided to move to a location beyond a crest in the road. The crest in the road launched the rally cars into the air.

Unfortunately for Mr Murphy, one of the rally cars lost control after the crest and struck Mr Murphy. He sustained a number of serious injuries to his leg, resulting in amputation of the left leg above the knee.

He issued proceedings in the High Court for compensation against Galway Motor Club, Motorsport Ireland, the motorsport safety team appointed for the event and the driver of the rally car.

In the High Court, he was awarded a total of €597,498 in respect of general and special damages, loss of earnings to date and for future loss of earnings. The trial Judge also apportioned liability of 33.33% to the defendants and 66.66% to the Plaintiff, which meant that the Plaintiff took away €199,166.

The Appeal

On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the total award was increased by €155,411 to €752,909. The Court considered that the High Court had not awarded enough to Mr Murphy in relation to his future pain and suffering, prior loss of earnings and loss of earnings into the future.

The Court of Appeal assessed the basis upon which liability had been apportioned by the Trial Judge in the High Court. The Trial Judge made the following findings in the High Court when assessing the apportionment of liability (amongst other findings);

  1. The Plaintiff probably had seen and considered the programme for the rally. The location of the accident was not mentioned in the programme and was not identified as an area of special risk;
  2. The programme contained a “spectator safety” warning notice, which included warnings in relation areas that might pose a hazard to spectators, this included an image of a “crest jump”;
  3. The Plaintiff had attended a number of rallies prior to this rally;
  4. The Plaintiff positioned himself at 50 metres beyond the crest at a distance of 2.5 metres from the road;
  5. There was no tape, markers, barriers or any other warning signs at the location of the crest to advise spectators of the potential of a hazard;
  6. The Plaintiff and his friends were not alerted in any way to the fact that they should not have been viewing the rally at the location beyond the crest, despite the fact that they would have been in view of the stage marshal at their original location;
  7. The area should have been cordoned off or marked as it was an obvious place of danger, per the evidence of an engineer;
  8. The Plaintiff had seated himself on a rock beyond the crest, which would have meant that he was not visible to the stage marshal at the original location and that the Plaintiff’s reaction time would have been impaired by him being in the seated position.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Trial Judge that those who attend rallies must take reasonable care for their own safety. Spectators must be vigilant and must comply with all guidance and instructions they may receive or encounter concerning their own safety. It was further agreed that those responsible for organising events of this nature know that spectators are likely to gather in places where drivers will be tested to their full capability and that those organisers need to have an effective safety plan in place to ensure that spectators will be safe, lest drivers lost control of their vehicles under such conditions.

The Court of Appeal highlighted the following points in relation to liability;

  1. The Defendants were experienced professionals involved in motorsport on a national and international level. They were well versed in the management of events. They are the parties with the expertise to know where spectators are likely to be at risk;
  2. While the promoters and organisers of sporting events ought not to be considered to be insurers of the welfare of spectators, they must seek to protect them from dangers of which they are aware, or ought to be aware;
  3. When compared to the knowledge, experience and expertise of the Defendants, the Plaintiff’s knowledge and experience of the risks to which he was exposed, pale significantly. The Court of Appeal found that he could hardly be described as somebody who did not need to warned about areas which were hazardous and which ought to have been identified and supervised;
  4. The Plaintiff should probably have anticipated the possibility of danger regardless of any warning and should have positioned himself further back from the road to make sure he would not be within striking distance of a car, should it lose control;
  5. The Plaintiff’s blameworthiness cannot be equated to the failure of the Defendants to identify the hazardous areas for the purposes of ensuring that spectators did not gather at that point;
  6. The safety warning notice was contained at page 20 of the rally programme and was not easily identifiable. The safety notice referred to marshals and their assistants providing guidance to spectators regarding safe positions to spectate – which did not happen in this case;
  7. If the Plaintiff had read the safety notice, it would have been blindingly obvious to him that he shouldn’t have been standing where he was when struck but because he had not been warned by marshals or otherwise, he might have considered it to be safe to be there;
  8. The greater degree of responsibility in terms of the Plaintiff’s safety rested with the experts – the Defendants;
  9. The Plaintiff’s sitting position and his reaction time from that sitting position would not have made any difference. Engineering evidence provided at the High Court hearing provided that the average reaction time was one second and a car travelling at 60 mph would travel the relevant distance in 2 seconds and at 75 mph in 1.6 second. The Plaintiff would not “have had a hope” of getting out of the way in the timeframe concerned.

The Court of Appeal found that the Plaintiff was 25% liable for the injuries he sustained, with the Defendants liable for the remaining 75%.

This Judgment serves as stark reminder to organising clubs, motorsport safety teams and Clerks of the Course that all areas within a motorsport event must be risk assessed prior to event commencement. If a risk is identified, ensure that it is addressed. If the risk is not identified, you will be assessed on whether or not you ought to have known of the risk. If in doubt, rally organisers and Clerks of the Course should consult with the appointed event Safety Officer or Motorsport Ireland.

Spectators at rallies are reminded to be aware of the risks of spectating at rallies, be aware of areas that may pose a risk to their safety and to obey the directions of all marshals at such events. The world governing body of motorsport, the FIA, have recently embarked on a campaign to highlight spectator safety for those attending at rallies. Some useful information on rally safety can be found here.

A full copy of the Judgment is available here.