Climbing Wall Court Case - Appeal Overturned

by Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC Jun/2008
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+Rock room, Fort Purbrook Activity Centre, Hampshire, 49 kb
In February 2002 a man was injured whilst using a bouldering wall. He tried to make a dynamic move and cartwheeled in the air, landing on his head. He was extremely unlucky, sustaining terrible injuries and is now tetraplegic.

The wall had adequate safety matting and was a standard bouldering wall. The fact that the climber suffered such serious injuries seems to be down to very bad luck:

"There was no criticism of the matting, which could be expected in most instances to cushion safely any climber who fell, it is obvious that, even with this matting, it was possible that a climber who fell awkwardly might be injured." Court of Appeal Judgement

In July 2007 Judge Richard Foster ruled in favour of the climber, finding that the wall was 25% responsible for the climber's accident and he was entitled to a large amount of money. Faced with a life in a wheel chair and high living costs, it is easy to understand why this individual pursued his claim. Both parties then made further appeals. These appeals went completely against the injured climber, ruling that the wall was in no way responsible for the climber's injuries:

"The law did not in my view require the appellants [The Climbing Wall] to prevent him from undertaking it [climbing], 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." Court of Appeal Judgement

Whilst it is hard not to feel compassion for a fellow climber who has suffered terrible injuries, as a group we must strive to see the larger scale impact these court decisions may have on our sport and our training facilities. Climbing walls have seen a huge increase in insurance fees in recent years, mainly due to the increase in court cases being brought against them. The famous Cliff's Barn in Lancashire has closed to the public due to increasing insurance costs and other walls could follow suit.

Ian Dunn (wall owner) authored a piece published in Summit magazine back in 2001:

"Unfortunately at the moment a number of insurance companies are known to have paid out of court for an easy life. Understandable from their point of view as going all the way to court is serious bucks, but this unfortunately encourages people to make even more claims."

However not all wall owners agree that these claims are on the up:

"I think these kind of claims are fairly rare and so far most have ruled in favour of the climbing walls. Whilst I have sympathy for the injured climber, I think this particular ruling is a victory for common sense. We've never been very keen on imposing rules and restrictions on people bouldering at The Beacon - such as 'no dyno's' or similar, but if this judgement had gone the other way then we might have been under pressure to do so."
Steve Mayers, Beacon Climbing Centre

John Cox is a a lawyer and a former climbing wall director:

"This case was not about whether facilities are as safe as they can be but about whether the customer's attention had been drawn to the unavoidable risks. The importance of the case is the court's laying down the principle that where a danger is obvious even to non-climbers there is no duty on the wall owner to warn customers of it. This of course has been said by the courts before but not in a climbing context. Walls can't be complacent, however. The first instance decision made clear that if there are risks involved in using a wall which would not be apparent to a non-climber, and the wall does not warn users of those risks, then the wall may be liable. Sadly this is something walls need to take out of this case, not necessarily because it will make their users any safer, but because it will make the walls' owners safer."


Thanks to John Alcock for bringing this to the attention of the UKC forums, to John Cox for additional information, to Steve Mayers at the Beacon Climbing Centre and to the BMC.

More info:
Court of Appeal Judgement
BMC Summit Article

Forums ( Read more )
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