Angling for the liability of Route Notes in Rallying

October 24, 2010

accident, Negligence

Munro v. Sturrock (T/a Scotmaps) [2010] CSOH 16

This case concerns a rally accident during the “The Little the Jewellers Speyside Stages 2004” rally in Scotland. The pursuer (claimant) was an experienced racer and double Scottish Champion. On the day in question, he was driving a Subaru Impreza, while his co-driver Heather Connon (now MacKenzie) navigated. The claim results from a crash that occurred on the 7th junction during the 6th of the 9 rally stages, just outside Clashindarroch, when the car ran wide at the bend and onto the offside banking, damaging the car and allegedly causing psychiatric injuries to Munro.

Munro later brought a case alleging that the description of the corner in question in the route notes had been negligently compiled  and it was this failure that caused the accident.

The Court heard plenty of evidence regarding the status of route notes, in particular their inherent subjectivity and the fact that one driver made these notes for 120 other drivers of differing ability [39]. Indeed, the reliance placed on these notes can be demonstrated by the fact that the organisers of the Speyside rally had prohibited reconnaissance runs by competitors under pain of disqualification. Instead for £100, the defendants provided route notes and an accompanying DVD “describing the road and bends accurately, including any hazards that are known at the time” [2]. This description consisted of an abbreviated angle (40 degrees=4), a direction (eg L or R) and any additional information relevant to the correct line to take around the corner (eg “In” [take a tight line], or “Cut” [the corner]).

The Court later heard at [13] that route notes had three main purposes:

  1. To reduce the advantage gained by cheats using other notes
  2. To reduce the advantage of those with local knowledge
  3. To make the rally safer, by providing drivers with a shorthand description of what the road was doing

The main thrust of the pursuer’s argument was that the corner should not have been designated as 4Lin, but rather as 7, as it had been previously described in 2001. Had the corner been described differently, the pursuer states that he would have approached it much slower than the 70mph and fifth gear in which he attempted it.

Initially his case seemed to be supported by a “smoking gun” email written in haste by Andrew Kelly (who helped check the route notes):

“On the basis of your information it would appear that Bill [Sturrock] has made a massive error in his route notes. As you know I’m the one that checks notes with him on the day and therefore, if this is correct, I must accept some degree of responsibility… I have no idea how I could have got this corner wrong as even in the Volvo I would have thought I would have noticed such a difference. I feel really bad about this and I am extremely disappointed in my own ability as a so-called rally driver.” [34]

At trial however, Mr Kelly couldn’t have navigated faster away from this email though and he was supported by the expert witnesses who, in the main, suggested that mathematical measurements proved the corner was 30-40 degrees. The judge (Lord Uist) agreed and seemed particularly unsympathetic to the fact that previous route notes may have contained different descriptions as this was not the accident being discussed at the trial [44]. Unfortunately for us, this conclusion also meant that the route notes were accurate and therefore the case could be disposed of without any discussion of how the standard of care test would have been applied. This is a a shame as a liability discussion would have been very interesting given that the Court would have needed to balance the obvious reliance placed on the notes by the drivers and navigators, with the subjective and scientifically unsupported nature of the instructions.

Youtube Clip of another WRC rally accident which captures the inherent risks involved in racing:

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About Kris

Associate Professor in Sports Law, Staffordshire University; British Gymnastics Senior Coach

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