Insureds purchase insurance coverage for their potential liability according to the level of their exposure towards third parties. In a recent judgment, the organisers of a cycling competition were found liable towards a cyclist who was injured during a competition and their insurance coverage was well below the damages that the court imposed. Following this judgment, sporting event organisers should reconsider the scope of their insurance coverage.

Facts

On 21 August 2018 the Tel Aviv District Court accepted a claim filed by a cyclist who had been injured during a cycling competition and ordered the Israeli Cycling Federation and its insurer (Clal Insurance Company Ltd), as well as the competition organiser to compensate the plaintiff for damages suffered due to their negligence in ensuring his safety during the competition, but deducted 25% as contributory negligence.

The plaintiff was injured during the second lap in a cycling competition that took place in the Galilee. The accident occurred when he approached a so-called 'Irish bridge' at high speed, lost control of his bicycle and fell and hurt his head and neck, which resulted in cognitive and motor disabilities that restricted his ability to work.

The court found that the plaintiff had lost most of his earning capacity and set his functional disability at 80%, considering the fact that his ability to work as an engineer had been significantly harmed.

Plaintiff's arguments

The plaintiff argued that:

  • the route of the competition was dangerous for a cycling competition, since the bridge had become a springboard for cyclists crossing at high speed;
  • there was no indication in the advertisement for the competition that there was a bridge crossing;
  • there were no markings or marshals prior to the descent towards the bridge;
  • the police and the Israeli Cycling Federation had not examined whether the route was safe and their approval of the competition created a false impression that the track had been examined and found to be safe; and
  • the defendants had breached their duty of care towards the plaintiff as a participant in the competition and had been negligent towards him.

After a long period in hospital, the plaintiff returned to work but found it difficult to regain his pre-injury working ability. As a result, he was given a more junior role, his salary was drastically reduced and despite his best efforts he was eventually fired.

The plaintiff argued that he had permanently lost his full ability to work due to the accident and as a result was earning approximately NIS2,000 per month (significantly lower than his previous salary).

Defence arguments

The Cycling Federation and the race organisers argued that:

  • cycling competitions involve inherent risks;
  • they had acted in a reasonable and professional manner by:
    • organising and selecting the route;
    • placing marshals at appointed posts; and
    • providing information to cyclists in a technical manual and a briefing given on the morning of the race;
  • the Irish bridge was not considered an obstacle or a risk for the cyclists, since it was a standard and common element on Israeli roads;
  • the plaintiff had been injured during the second lap of the race, hence the bridge had not been a surprise for him;
  • the accident had not been foreseeable and could not have been reasonably prevented; and
  • the plaintiff had taken a voluntary risk by choosing to participate in the competition and should bear contributory negligence as he has been injured as a result of his own negligence.

Police arguments

The police argued as follows:

  • A court judgement imposing liability on the police in this matter would be unacceptable for the police and the public.
  • Event organisers are the responsible parties regarding the professional safety of cyclists. Police departments are only obliged to undertake a risk survey and examine the safety of the riders.
  • The plaintiff had not proven that a risk existed along the route and the accident resulted from his contributory negligence.

Decision

While declining the claim against the police, the court accepted the plaintiff's arguments against the Israeli Cycling Federation and the competition organiser and determined that they had breached their duty of care towards the plaintiff and were therefore liable for damages.

The Irish bridge was a danger for cyclists approaching at high speed, considering the large number of competing cyclists and the fact that the bridge was located after two corners.

The competition had been sponsored and approved by the Israeli Cycling Federation, which was therefore found to be directly liable. In addition, the Israeli Cycling Federation was found to be vicarious liable for the competition organiser's conduct.

The defendants had not explicitly mentioned the existence of the risk along the route in either the technical manual that they had published or during the cyclists' briefing held at the beginning of the competition.

No marshals had been placed at a point that was effective enough to alert the cyclists approaching the bridge of the potential danger.

The court emphasised that sports activity should not be prohibited due to the risks involved, but event organisers should be responsible for maintaining the public's safety.

Plaintiff's contributory negligence

In view of the fact that the plaintiff had been an experienced cyclist, he should have considered any potential risks on the first lap, hence he was found to bear 25% contributory negligence.

In view of the plaintiff's functional disability of 80% and his reduced salary due to the accident, the court determined that the defendants should compensate him in the amount of NIS8,292,600.

An appeal was filed to the Supreme Court and is still pending.

For further information on this topic please contact Sigal Avshalom at Levitan, Sharon & Co by telephone (+972 3 688 6768) or email (sigal@levitansharon.co.il). The Levitan, Sharon & Co website can be accessed at www.israelinsurancelaw.com.

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