Thinking | 12 November 2019

Community sports organisation defeats claim for negligent preparation of campdraft arena

A not-for-profit community event organiser has managed to escape liability for catastrophic injuries suffered by a campdraft competitor, by relying on the statutory defences available in the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) (CLA).

Facts

On 8 January 2011, the plaintiff participated in a campdraft event at Ellerston, New South Wales (Event).  Campdrafting is a sport involving a horse and rider working cattle.  The Event was organised by the defendant, Australian Bushmen's Campdraft and Rodeo Association Ltd.  While competing at the Event, the plaintiff’s horse slipped on the arena surface causing the plaintiff to fall from her horse and suffer a significant spinal injury.

The plaintiff commenced personal injury proceedings against the defendant in the Supreme Court of NSW, alleging that she suffered injury as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence in failing to adequately prepare the ground; to stop the competition; and to warn competitors that the ground was unsafe.

The defendant relied on the statutory defences available to it under sections 5K, 5L and 5M of the CLA.  The defendant also relied on the volunteer’s defence (section 61 of the CLA) which stipulates that there is no liability for acts done by a volunteer doing community work organised by a community organisation.

Dangerous recreational activity and obvious risk

Her Honour accepted that ‘recreational activity’ would plainly include participation in a competitive campdrafting event.  Even though falls at campdrafting events were rare, her Honour had little difficulty accepting that campdrafting was a dangerous recreational activity, as the potential harm was catastrophic.  Her Honour accepted that horses can be ‘unpredictable animals’, and the risk of a rider falling off a horse would have been obvious to a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position.  Her Honour held that the defendant had established, in the circumstances, it had no obligation to inform the plaintiff of the risk of falling from her horse during the Event, as this risk was obvious.

Waiver and risk warning

The defendant also relied on the waiver executed by the plaintiff which explicitly prevented her from suing the defendant for personal injury.  Her Honour noted that the terms of the waiver were clear and required the plaintiff to acknowledge that campdraft is a recreational activity and that there was a risk of personal injury or death.  By signing the waiver, the plaintiff understood that she was waiving her rights to sue.  Therefore, her Honour upheld a defence under section 5M of the CLA.

Volunteer’s defence

Her Honour also noted that the defendant was a not-for-profit organisation, whose objectives included promoting campdrafting and encouraging ‘friendship and good fellowship amongst persons interested in campdrafting’.  Her Honour considered that the persons identified by the plaintiff as carrying out negligent acts were volunteers carrying out community work.  Therefore, the volunteers and the defendant organisation were entitled to section 61 protection.

Commentary

This case is consistent with recent decisions considering horse-related recreational activity as falling within the definition of a ‘dangerous recreational activity’.  The case also provides guidance on how statutory defences will apply to risk waivers and community sports organisations, particularly the volunteer’s defence.

This article was written with the assistance of Winnie Chu, Law Graduate. 

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'"Stand out" Rachael Arnold is recommended for public and product liability claims.' – The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2017

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