Tag Archives: risk management

Jumping Backward to Poppleton again: Why ‘Pinchbeck v. Craggy Island Ltd (2012) [2012] All ER (D) 121 (Mar)’ may have been wrongly decided

March 21, 2012

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While the case itself is unreported except in the All England Reporter, a number of newspapers carry the story: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2115749/Craggy-island-leap-Louise-Pinchbeck-leapt-wall-hurt-ankle-100k-payout.html

The Claimant (Louise Pinchbeck) successfully brought a negligence claim against Craggy Island Ltd (an indoor rock-climbing centre) for injuries sustained during a bank team-building day organised by her employer in March 2008.

While the claimant had not had much experience rock-climbing, she had spent two hours that morning being closely supervised by two instructors top-roping on a high (40ft) wall with safety harnesses. The injury occurred when she was bouldering without any harnesses on a low (4m) wall and twisted her ankle when she jumped off onto the matting suffering compound ankle fractures.

Although an attempt was made by the defendants to suggest that P’s apology for making a fuss amounted to an admission of guilt, the Court held that this apology should only be taken as an expression of embarrassment and the case proceeded to trial.

While an instructor was supervising the low wall, the claimant argued that no formal instruction for the low wall was given to her other than not to have more than two people on the wall at any one time and she felt that the bouldering wall was almost like a ‘play session’ to cool down. The  defendant disputed this allegation and suggested that the claimant received a full safety briefing, however the court held that on the balance of probabilities, the claimant had not been given any clear instructions on how to descend from the wall, and that no clear prohibition was given not to jump.

The Court further held that the defendant had assumed responsibility for the claimant by providing instructors and that:

“the defendant had known that the claimant had, to that point, only climbed upwards that day and had therefore known, or ought to have known that she was at a disadvantage on the low wall. By not instructing her not to jump down from the wall, the defendant had failed to discharge its duty of care to the claimant.”

The Court also held that the instructor should have:

  • Been aware that there had been previous injuries sustained historically from other climbers
  • observed that the people P was climbing with had also jumped from the wall, prior to P’s injury

This seems a crazy counsel of perfection and one has to wonder what has happened to the doctrine of inherent risk, or to the application of s1 of the Compensation Act? Indeed, while the case digest summary shows the Court was cited Poppleton, they also seem to have disregarded the CA judgment in favour of the earlier (now overruled) High Court decision! Jeremy Howe’s digest summary (in his report of the case for the All England Reporter) suggests that the Court held that the risk of this injury could and should have been prevented by proper instruction, and that this breach of duty made the case unsuitable for an application of the volenti non fit injuria principle, although the claimant should be held 1/3 contributory negligent.

While this analysis is indeed legally correct, it presupposes that there had been a breach of duty. If this is true, possibly the Court was swayed by what it saw as a culpable failure of the defendants that needed punishment, rather than any general duty owed to climbers / boulderers. Indeed without this explanation, it seems difficult to reconcile with the recent CA rugby case of Sutton v. Syston where a breach of duty by the club (to perform a pitch inspection) did not ultimately cause the accident.

It may be worth considering whether had the defendants not ‘assumed responsibility’ by providing an instructor whether liability would have been imposed? To the best of my knowledge, there is no formal qualification for a UK bouldering instructor to hold (unlike the Single-pitch award for top-roping). Given this, did the defendants actually owe the claimant a duty to provide an instructor, or to remind them that jumping from a wall onto mats was dangerous? Indeed, hadn’t we already established both this lack of a duty and the fact that gravity hurts in Poppleton?

If this is indeed an accurate reflection of the case, the sooner it can be appealed the better, to leave it as it is would indeed be a backward jump.

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World Sports Law Report’s: Tackling Doping in Sport 2011 (in association with UK Anti-Doping & Squire Sanders Hammonds, 16-17 March, London [DAY 2]

March 25, 2011

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If there are any errors or inaccuracies these are from me rather than from the speakers. The official WSLR review of the event can be found here: http://e-comlaw.com/sportslawblog/template_permalink.asp?id=386

Day 2  (http://www.tacklingdopinginsport.com/)

  1. Anti-Doping at the Olympic Games. Richard Budgett (London 2012). The first lecture discussed the planned anti-doping provision at London 2012. Just listening to the statistics in particular outlined the sheer logistical task ahead, indeed London plans to undertake the most number of blood and urine doping tests yet (6,200 tests total split as 5,000 at the Olympics, 1,200 at the Paralympics), reaching an expected peak of 400 on one day! (To put this into perspective, UKAD only conduct 7,500 annual tests!). For the first time at the Olympics, Blood and Urine will also be collected in the same room hopefully speeding up the process. One problem that was however raised in light of David Howman’s speech the day before was that all the Doping Control Officer’s (DCO) will be volunteers and the potential for this to lead to bribery?
  2. Anti-Doping at the Commonwealth Games. David Grevemberg (Glasgow 2014). This lecture presented an overview of the planned anti-doping provision at Glasgow 2014. What was noticeable was the stark contrast between the statistics for the two events: Glasgow will have 17 sports, 25 disciplines, 250 medal events, 71 Nations and territories and 11 days of competition, indeed the costs of the Olympic stadium alone would fund Glasgow’s entire budget. One issue that hasn’t yet been decided though was whether the DCOs were coming from London, foreign jurisdictions or from training Scottish medical staff and providing an anti-doping legacy after the Games.
  3. Keynote Speech – Legacy for Anti-Doping. Hugh Robertson MP (UK Minister for Sport and the Olympics). The Keynote Speech has been widely reported by the media (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/feedarticle/9550585; http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/17/us-olympics-london-doping-idUSTRE72G43Z20110317) however it is still worth highlighting a number of points the Minister made. The first point to note is that he felt that sport was facing twin threats from doping (possibly from more individual sports) and from corruption (possibly from more team-based sports). Combating these two threats was vital if sport was to retain its integrity. One throwaway comment that perhaps jars with the current England FA coverage is that he viewed all Olympic sports stars as role models [whether this is enforceable though is another matter!]. The Minister praised UKAD and encouraged its close relationship with law enforcement, interestingly though he suggested that they should focus not just on target athletes but on stemming the entire flow of drugs at the source. He also seemed amenable to pass legislation on this issue if it was needed in the future, and in echoes of David Howman’s speech called for a strengthening and harmonisation of clearer doping rules across Europe.
  4. Using intelligence to combat doping in the run up to the Olympic Games. Nicole Sapstead (UK Anti-Doping). This lecture developed the theme from both David Howman and Travis Tygart’s earlier presentations. Somewhat provocatively, the talk opened with the statistic that there were 498 days until London 2012, but 0 days to combat cheats and their entourage! An interesting rhetorical question was whether UKAD had failed if they detected a BALCO-esque scandal just before / during the Games, or whether this in fact represented a success? What was interesting from this presentation was how UKAD collates information, trends and intelligence into a central database in order to analyse doping patterns. Nicole also outlined how UKAD used both a tactical (directly focused) and strategic (wider education) approach to combating drug cheats. She also highlighted the success of the recent anti-doping reporting hotline (run through the independent Crimestoppers): 0800 032 2332 where callers can anonymously pass on information to authorities 24/7 (http://www.ukad.org.uk/news/report-doping-in-sport)
  5. Background to and experience of the [Biological Passport] programme. Michael Ashenden (SIAB Research). This lecture explained how doping cases no longer involved positive tests, but also now involved ‘non-analytical positives’ where other evidence / interviews / suspicions could be considered indicators of guilt. One such area is Biological passports. The passport relies on two cornerstones, the initial software filtering which highlights deviances from the norm, and the subsequent review of this data by a series of experts to rule out pathological or other non-doping factors. The presentation concluded with an exhortation to discover even more markers within the blood to test for in order to block any potential loopholes.
  6. Advancements in the use of biological markers in anti-doping control. Paul Scott (Scott Analytics). This lecture could best be described as a critical analysis of the current biological passport scheme and how it could be improved in the future. Some of the suggestions raised privacy / freedom issues, such as the ability to test at any time of day or night, but this must be balanced against the fact that athletes are not currently tested between 11pm-6am and if they declared their whereabouts for later the following day, it was possible to flush certain substances from their body. Tightening the window for analysis of samples would have financial and complexity implications, but effectively sport needs to decide whether it wanted to prohibit doping or to trade-off lower costs with less reliability. A greater use of “non-starts” rather than full doping violations was also suggested.
  7. Procedural issues in anti-doping proceedings. Antonio Rigozzi (Levy Kaufmann-Kohler). This lecture compared and contrasted the admissibility of evidence under Swiss law and the WADA Code, in particular whether the WADA Code could be supplemented by IBA Rules on evidence (www.ibanet.org). Some doubts still exist over the admissibility of polygraph tests, however there is a suggestion that CAS has applied the criminal rather than civil test and therefore its decision in this area is open to challenge.
  8. Potential civil liabilities arising from doping control. Stephen Sampson (Squire Sanders Hammonds). This lecture explored whether athletes could bring civil claims against an Anti-Doping Organisation (ADO) and/or Governing Body for irregularities or problems with the doping control process. A number of case studies were discussed, as was the position in the event of a material departure from WADA rules, however it was also noted that such an action was very unlikely to succeed, particularly if the ADO / NGB had acted fairly, proportionately and justly in accordance with the rules. Interestingly while the WADA Code has been used as a ‘shield’ to protect athletes from abuse, this proposition envisages it being used as a ‘sword’ to attack for a breach.
  9. Contaminated meat: A threat to athletes subject to doping control. Mike Morgan (Squire Sanders Hammonds). This lecture discussed whether clenbuterol from contaminated meat was behind a string of recent doping results, and if so what could be done about it. Arguably the problem lay both within the agricultural sector in particular countries (Taiwan, China, South Korea and Mexico in particular) [but clenbuterol was not at levels harmful to the health of the general population], and also inconsistencies in the legal treatment of the athletes contaminated by the drug. One interesting argument from the questions was whether meat could be treated along similar lines to supplements? Taken to its logical conclusion, this would suggest that under strict liability, an athlete could be to blame if they didn’t convert to veganism?
  10. The risks – recent experiences of a NADO. Aurora Andruska (ASADA). This session was a multimedia presentation on the recent Australian experience with the supplement Methylhexaneamine.  The presentation also analysed the media reporting of the issue and the subsequent repercussions for the four athletes that tested positive for the substance.
  11. Reducing the risk. David Hall (Informed Sport – HFL), Jeni Pearce (English Institute of Sport, England Cricket), Graham Arthur (UKAD). This final section was less a lecture and more a question and answer session on supplements. Two interesting things came out of this session in particular, the first is that there were two main areas where contamination occurred: Using contaminated raw ingredients; and where third party manufacturers had cross-contaminated the product with a prohibited substance. It was also useful to hear about the current EIS policy on supplements, where athletes can receive specialised nutritional advice, guidance and support for supplement use on condition of signing up to an agreed code of conduct. Importantly, the EIS did emphasise though that this programme was one of risk management and that athletes remained liable for what substances entered their bodies; indeed, it was impossible to test every sample although the EIS could minimise this risk by only using approved suppliers and by keeping a record of what supplement batch was taken in order to trace any contamination.
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US zip-line lawsuit

February 7, 2011

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A lawsuit was recently filed in United States District Court (District of Utah – Central Division) by the estate of a man who died whilst zip-lining. The complaint alleges that on 11 August 2008 at the Rockin’ R Ranch in Piute County Utah, Daniel A. Hoagland, MD dutifully followed the instructions given him, climbed the zip-line tower, held on to the strap which connected the stick to the zip-line, sat on the stick and left the tower. The strap immediately snapped causing Dr. Hoagland to fall resulting in his death. The complaint describes the strap as narrow, weathered and worn-out.

The lawsuit is seeking general damages, special damages including loss of financial support and lost wages, punitive and exemplary damages, plus other costs.

The lawsuit alleges negligence or, in the alternative, gross negligence which the complaint describes as conduct which is willful, intentional or reckless causing Dr. Hoagland’s death. The complaint lists 15 separate alleged breaches of duty. The two most salient allegations relate to failure to maintain a safe zip-line and failure to secure participants to the zip-line via a harness and lanyard.

The defense will likely rely upon the doctrine of inherent risk and that the plaintiff signed a waiver and release of liability. US courts have dismissed similar claims under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk such that – for example – if falling is an inherent risk of climbing and if the plaintiff fell whilst climbing then the eventuation of that risk is something to which the plaintiff accepted.

That Dr. Hoagland was not wearing a harness – while distressing – is not necessarily material to the case. It is probable that he was informed of this hazard and that, as a man of science, he understood the law of gravity and the risks herein.

Zip line using stick and no harness - photo is NOT from Rockin' R Ranch

Where it becomes potentially troublesome for the defendant is in the state of the equipment. Contrary to the claim, the defendant is under no duty to operate a ‘safe’ zip-line. Under the circumstances, it is unreasonable to assign a duty to make a contraption such as this infallible. Risks can be minimized or mitigated but never eliminated. To remove the risk of falling from a height whilst zip-lining or climbing, the only plausible option would be to not get off the ground. At issue then is what are reasonable risk management practices in the circumstances of operating a commercial zip-line operation.

Recall that the strap broke immediately after Dr. Hoagland weighted it. This might suggest that it was of insufficient integrity or quality to hold his weight. He would have consented to the ordinary risks inherent to zip-lining but have not consented to zip-line on defective or deficient materials or engineering.

It is possible, however, if the waiver was properly prepared and presented that it could bar recovery for a mechanical failure which was not reasonably foreseeable or detectable. Hypothetically, if the strap followed manufacturer’s specifications relating to its use, had not exceeded the manufacturer’s recommended shelf-life, and the alleged materials defect was not detected by the defendants in routine inspection, then its structural failure could not have been reasonably foreseeable.

It is unlikely that a waiver would cover a strap in the condition alleged by the complainant. If it can be shown that the strap was defective or deficient and that it was plain to see to anyone who directed their attention to it then it becomes a different story altogether. This is the second prong to the claim. Gross negligence would not be covered by the waiver.

The crux of this case will therefore be what is a reasonable zip-line and what are reasonable equipment inspection and maintenance practices.

Stay tuned.

Read the statement of claim here – Zip-line Statement of Claim – Hoagland v Rockin’ R Ranch.

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Foolish or Foolproof: Risk Management at the Commonwealth Games

October 4, 2010

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Yesterday, New Delhi staged a spectacular and successful opening of the XIX Commonwealth Games. The lead-up to the Games has been an interesting exercise of risk management, realpolitik, and public relations. Many countries adopted a wait-and-see approach to ensure the safety and security of their participating athletes. What was understated, however, is that international sporting federations were backed into a corner to make a last minute decision as a result of India’s dithering, indifference and intransigence.

This is no way to manage risk with sports teams.  The approach thus far was almost carnivalesque.  An Ottawa Citizen editorial ended with the comment that ‘Commonwealth Games Canada should feel confident in the level of safety, health and security before it brings any athletes to Delhi. These are, after all, only games’ (read editorial here).

Countrys’ participation in the XIX Commonwealth Games should not be based upon the false premise “The show must go on” but on whether a rational assessment of the risk shows it is safe to do so.

A recently published letter to the editor of mine in The Vancouver Sun was edited which essentially made the same point (see letter here).

It must be noted that India’s Interior Ministry issued a security advisory for all states to go on high alert and a UK-based firm Control Risks has advised its clients to avoid tourist attractions, public places and government buildings, and not to travel by public transport and warns that there is a relatively high likelihood of attacks occurring (read statement here).

In the pressure cauldron which was the lead-up to the Games, it is difficult to say that it was even possible for such an assessment to be made. It seems risk management was playing second fiddle to politics and economics. Let’s be mindful that India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, Shri Anand Sharma, issued a veiled threat suggesting economic retaliation against those countries who backed out and withdrew from the Games (read quote here).

Sport has always been linked to politics but this is taking it to a whole other level.

Countries were forced into making a decision and being told that sufficient safety margins were built up in the Games’ final days of preparation. A Reuters article warns that last minute preparations for the Games has meant that security forces may have cut corners (read article here).

Bad things happened when decisions are based upon timelines rather than reason. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster taught us that.

I wish the best for New Delhi but – under the circumstances – would not be surprised if even a security blanket of 100,000 police and surface-to-air missiles do not offer the foolproof security promised by Interior Minister P. Chidambaram.

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