High Court Rules in Favor of Adventure Parc Snowdonia in Surfing Injury Liability Case

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3334 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

The High Court of Justice in the case of Carl Wayne Bennion v Adventure Parc Snowdonia Limited has deliberated on a matter concerning occupier’s liability within the context of a sports facility. The judgment revolves around the duty owed by the occupier of a surf lagoon to a visitor who suffered serious injuries while surfing. The intricacies of the case lie in assessing the occupier’s liability under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, with particular attention paid to whether the sports activity or the premises’ state generated the risk leading to the injury. The legal principles of risk assessment, the social value of the activity involved, and the acceptable measures taken to prevent injury are scrupulously evaluated in determining the claim’s merits.

Key Facts

Mr. Bennion sued Adventure Parc Snowdonia after sustaining life-changing injuries from falling on an artificial surfing lagoon’s floor. The claimant argued that the defendant breached its duty by not ensuring reasonable safety measures. Critical facts included the claimant’s awareness of the lagoon’s depth, the nature of his fall, the involvement of third-party health and safety advisors, historical safety records of the lagoon, and the lack of previous comparable injuries. The defense highlighted the inherent risks of surfing, the measures taken to inform and equip surfers, and the social value of allowing individuals to engage in the sport.

The central legal framework employed in this case was section 2 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, which mandates that an occupier of premises owes a “common duty of care” to its visitors. To assess if there has been a breach of this duty, the court considered several factors:

  • Likelihood of injury: Recognizing that surfing inherently involves the risk of falls, the court acknowledged that an occupant must consider the risk of injury and implement reasonable measures to safeguard visitors.

  • Seriousness of injury: The court evaluated the severity of possible injuries and the defendant’s awareness of these consequences through its risk assessment procedures.

  • Social value of the activity: Surfing as a sport was deemed to have significant social value, which the court balanced against the risks involved when considering the duty of care.

  • Cost and practicability of preventative measures: The court reflected on the feasibility of altering the lagoon’s design and the impact this would have on the sport’s essence, essentially surfability.

The case law relied upon includes the House of Lords decision in Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council [2003] UKHL 47, which provides clarity on the occupier’s responsibility in cases involving recreational activities, and the Court of Appeal in James v White Lion Hotel [2021] EWCA Civ, which emphasizes the factual assessment based upon particular circumstances in evaluating liability.

Outcomes

The court found the Defendant not liable for Mr. Bennion’s injuries. It concluded that the Defendant fulfilled its duty of care by informing surfers, including Mr. Bennion, of the surfing lagoon’s nature and taking reasonable safety measures consistent with the sport’s inherent risks. Specifically, the lagoon’s features, such as the depth of the reef, were necessary for wave creation, and any modifications to reduce risk would render surfing impossible or unnecessarily eliminate intermediate stages valuable to surfers’ progression. Furthermore, the rarity of the injury suffered by Mr. Bennion, combined with the lack of evidence suggesting an alternative safer design, supported the conclusion that the Defendant had acted reasonably.

Conclusion

This case elucidates the occupier’s liability in the context of sports facilities, emphasizing the intricacies of balancing the social value of sports activities against the inherent risks they pose. The court has reaffirmed the notion that the occupier’s duty of care does not extend to eliminating risks that are fundamental to the sport itself, providing they have taken reasonable measures to inform and protect participants. The case firmly establishes that liability does not hinge solely on the occurrence of an injury but on a more nuanced consideration of the circumstances and the reasonable expectations of safety in a given context.

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