Reynolds v Strutt & Parker LLP 15.07.11

Claimant was not in the course of employment when participating in cycle race during a team outing; employer was negligent but received a significant reduction for contributory negligence to reflect the failure to wear a cycle helmet. On 19 June 2008 the Claimant sustained a very severe head injury when he fell from a cycle whilst competing in a race at Fowlmead Country Park. The fall was precipitated by a collision between the cycle being ridden by the Claimant and another being ridden by one of his work colleagues, Alistair Cracknell. The race was one of three activities in which around 30 of the Defendant’s Canterbury office staff were participating, as part of an event variously described as a "team bonding event", "team building day" and "thank you to the staff". This had been organised by two of the Canterbury office partners, Simon Backhouse and Edward Church.

Held

His Honour Judge Oliver-Jones QC, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, found as follows:

  • The collision occurred as the result of a deliberate attempt by the Claimant to force Mr Cracknell out of the race or, at the very least, a reckless disregard for safety.
  • Neither Mr Backhouse nor Mr Church had the necessary skills or knowledge to make either a suitable or sufficient assessment of risks associated with cycle racing. They completely overlooked the obvious risk of collision. In addition, neither of them properly assessed the need to recommend the wearing of cycle helmets.
  • Neither the Claimant nor anyone else was in the course of their employment when taking advantage of the Defendant’s hospitality. It would offend a sense of justness and reasonableness to conclude that the Health and Safety at Work Act and associated regulations were ever intended to be of application in the circumstances of this case.
  • A common law duty of care was owed by the Defendant to the Claimant:

"Although the event was not in the course of employment, one cannot, in my judgment, simply ignore the relationship of employer and employee … It is, in my judgment, from that relationship, as well as the relationship of organiser and attendee, that the duty of care arise."

That duty of care included the making of adequate risk assessments. The most important failure in the risk assessment process was not engaging the management of Fowlmead in the assessment process.

  • There should be judgment for the Claimant on the issue of liability, subject to the finding that he was contributorily negligent to the extent of two thirds for failing to wear one of the cycle helmets that was available.

Comment

Those familiar with the line of judicial decisions on vicarious liability may be surprised by the view taken by the Judge that the Claimant was not acting in the course of his employment. The test set by the House of Lords in Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd [2002] and confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Mattis v Pollock [2003] is a wide one. However, ultimately this finding did not impact on the overall decision against the Defendant on primary liability.

The decision is also noteworthy for the approach taken to contributory negligence for failing to wear a cycle helmet. Wearing a cycle helmet is not compulsory, but in Smith v Finch [2009] the High Court held that a reduction could be made for contributory negligence for failure to wear a cycle helmet on the road, subject to the defendant demonstrating that wearing a helmet would have prevented the injury or made it less severe. No reduction was made in Smith v Finch, given the lack of evidence on causation. It is perhaps not surprising that this principle has been extended to off-road cycling. However, it does not appear that any medical evidence was available to address the issue of causation, and so the Defendant may have been fortunate to achieve this result.

We understand from the Claimant's solicitors that the decision has not been appealed and the case has now settled.