UK: High-Risk Leisure Activities: Climbing Wall Case – Appeal Court Overturns Decision

Last Updated: 15 September 2008
Article by Andrew Caplan, Partner

A number of leisure and outdoor activities carry inherent risks, in this particular case, climbing and other so called "adrenaline" induced activities. The question for the Court of Appeal was to what extent the provider of this centre for the activity was under a duty to point out the inherent risks – check for competency, and satisfy themselves that instruction was not required.

In the case of Trustees of the Portsmouth Youth Activities Committee (a charity) v Poppleton [2008] EWCA Civ 646, the Court of Appeal stated that victims of accidents where risk is "plainly obvious" may have no claim.

The Claimant in this case, attended the Defendant's indoor climbing premises to engage in "bouldering" which is low level rock climbing without ropes. He had visited these premises a number of times previously but was a relatively inexperienced climber. The Claimant was with a group of friends, some of whom were more experienced. He was not given any instruction or asked about his ability as a climber. The Defendants, like many similar institutions, provided suitable premises and equipment leaving users to do so sensibly and without supervision.

There were three uncovered girders in the climbing room and the floor was covered with 12 inch thick matting. There were climbing walls rules on a board outside the room prohibiting jumping off walls. Having seen his friend jump off one wall to grab hold of a girder, the Claimant attempted a similar manoeuvre, which was dangerous for a novice. He landed on his head, sustaining severe spinal injuries.

At first instance, the court held that there had been no breach of the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 as there was nothing wrong with the premises. Also, it was not reasonable to impose a duty of care upon the Defendant to assess the Claimant's competency as a climber or to provide training or supervision before allowing him to use the facility. However there was a duty at common law to inform the Claimant about the dangers of falling onto the matting, so that he was not misled into believing that it was safe to fall off the wall as there was matting in place. The Judge held the Claimant 75% to blame, as he had carried out a dangerous manoeuvre beyond his capabilities.

The Defendants appealed and the Claimants cross-appealed, on the basis that the Judge should have found that the scope of the Defendant's duty was greater than he did. The Court of Appeal unanimously overturned the high court ruling stating that it was obvious that no amount of matting would avoid the possibility of injury arising out of an awkward fall.

On the issue of whether there was a duty to train or supervise, the Court of Appeal considered Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council [2003] UKHL 47. This was a case concerning a Claimant who had dived into the shallow end of a lake, despite notices prohibiting swimming in the lake. The Claimant, who was a trespasser, landed on his head and sustained injuries. The Court of Appeal had found that the Local Authority, who were the owners and occupiers, owed the Claimant a duty of care under s.1 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1984. They successfully appealed, and Lord Hoffman, in his judgment, stated that Mr Tomlinson suffered his injury because he chose to indulge in activity, which had inherent dangers. He was a person of full capacity voluntarily engaging in an activity, which had an inherent risk. Lord Hoffman said that is would be extremely rare for an occupier of land to be under a duty to prevent people from taking risks which are inherent in the activities they freely choose to undertake. A duty to protect against obvious risk or self inflicted harm exists only in cases in which there is no genuine or informed choice.

In Poppleton, Lord Justice May considered that it was: "...quite obvious that no amount of matting will avoid absolutely the risk of possibly severe injury from an awkward fall and that the possibility of an awkward fall is an obvious and inherent risk of this kind of climbing."

In allowing the appeal May LJ stated: "There being inherent and obvious risks in the activity which Mr Poppleton was voluntarily undertaking, the law did not in my view require the appellants to prevent him from undertaking it, nor to train him or supervise him while he did it, or see that others did so. If the law required training or supervision in this case, it would equally be required for a multitude of other commonplace leisure activities which nevertheless carry with them a degree of obvious inherent risk – as for instance bathing in the sea."

The law, as it now stands, does not require a Defendant to prevent a Claimant from engaging in such an activity or to provide training or supervision, where the risks are inherently obvious.

This case is a natural extension of the principles from Tomlinson applied in a slightly different environment. In Tomlinson the Claimant chose to dive into a lake not knowing its depth and in this case the danger was more obvious namely a climbing wall. An analogy was drawn in the Poppleton case to the hiring of mountain bikes or skis, which suggests a level of dangerous outdoor activity. Is there a line in the sand where the Courts will say that the equipment should not be hired without the provision of tuition? Or at least satisfaction of the person's qualification to use such equipment. Frequently a regulatory body will require a level of qualification before the hirer is allowed to release the equipment for example car and scooters, but in the case where there is no regulatory body or such requirement, one wonders whether at any point the Court will require the hirer to adopt a duty of care.

This case is also useful in demonstrating personal responsibility, however dangerous activities will often include the provision of supervision and/or training, and in those cases the defendant may still have legal redress, should the provision of those services fall below an acceptable standard.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.