Cornish Glennroy Blair-Ford –v- CRS Adventures Limited: The High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division

On 19 April 2007 the Claimant, a teacher, was taking part in a “Mini Olympics” at an outdoor pursuits centre in Devon along with a number of school children and other teachers from his school.

One of the events in which the children were taking part was a welly wanging competition and the teachers were invited to also join in. It was decided that given the increased strength of the teachers, that they would be handicapped in the competition by way of having to throw the wellies through their legs rather than overarm.

Unfortunately, when it came to the Claimant’s turn to throw the welly, he threw it between his legs with such force that he over-pivoted, and landed on his head/neck sustaining a catastrophic spinal injury resulting in permanent tetraplegia.

The Claimant brought a claim against the outdoor pursuits centre stating that the method was unsafe and the injury was a logical and foreseeable consequence of the Defendant’s failure to carry out an appropriate risk assessment which if it had done, the method would have been modified and the accident would not have occurred.

A general risk assessment had been undertaken by the Defendant but no specific risk assessment had been undertaken regarding the welly wanging event and the method of throwing the welly through the legs. The Defendant’s instructors said that they considered the method but had not considered it to be a risky exercise.

None of the Defendant’s witnesses, including instructors from the course, eye witnesses, a Senior Inspector for the Adventure Activities Licensing Service and a County Council Events Manager had heard of anyone being injured in a similar way before and therefore the Defendant was of the view that such an injury was a low risk.

The Claimant said that there had been no analytical assessment of the risk and that no instruction had been given to the teachers such that when they threw the welly through their legs, they were to not throw with such force so that they did not over-pivot and fall. The Claimant said that it did not matter whether it was a serious or just a risk of injury that needed to be considered; any proper risk assessment would have revealed a risk of falling onto the head etc. if it had been done.

It was found that the accident happened because of a combination of forces – the Claimant used considerable force when throwing the welly, he was bent very low so that his head was almost between his knees and his posture was such that he lost his balance. The Defendant stated that it was not foreseeable.

Court Findings

Having considered the case, the Court found that the law of tort must not stamp out socially desirable activities just because they may carry some risk.

There was an immense social value to the course that was being run by the Defendant, and it was found that this particular outdoor activity centre was run efficiently and professionally. The Defendant’s accident record was excellent.

The Court found that a formal risk assessment in particular with regards to the specific welly wanging exercise was not required. The dynamic risk assessment that the instructors had undertaken was suitable and the instructors concerned had thought about the dangers but they could not have foreseen that the accident would happen in the way that it did.

The Court found that the risk to be foreseen had to be that of a serious injury and not simply a mere possibility, otherwise it would never influence the mind of a reasonable man.

The Court agreed with the Defendant that this was a tragic and freak accident and therefore the case was dismissed.