Recently I read a number of news articles about a man who came off his mountain bike, hit his head and is now paralysed as a result. However this man fell off during an instructed skills course and is now suing the instructor for £4m because of ‘Woefully inadequate’ supervision.
I feel for the victim, as it’s a tragic accident that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and it will have a massive impact on his life. However I really hope the Judge will throw this case out of court or rule in favour of the instructor.
According to the victim’s lawyer, he was a mountain biker with 12 years experience, but was a novice on rough terrain and descents. Also claiming he was encouraged to descend the section they were riding at speed and without braking which the victim felt was unsafe. Now I take issue with this. The victim is a grown man who works as a solicitor, so we can assume he is of more than fair intelligence. He also is old enough to identify risks and if he felt it wasn’t safe or didn’t feel confident enough to do the task, then he didn’t have to. No one was forcing him. However, he fell off on the second descent of the same section of trail so he had already done it once and felt confident enough to do it again.
This also raises the question that how can you be an experienced mountain biker but a novice on rough terrain and descents. As a mountain biker myself, I know that these aspects are integral to mountain biking and essentially what makes mountain biking exactly that and not just riding a bike. Is it being claimed that merely by owning a mountain bike for a number of years then you are and experienced mountain biker? No, it doesn’t. If a mountain bike is your bicycle of choice and you just ride it on the road, to the shops or on a gentle ride with your family round Centre Parks then you are not a mountain biker. Just the same as the school run mums in big four wheel drives aren’t off roaders and participate in greenlaning at the weekend with the other mums. I could go and buy a racing car if I had the money but that wouldn’t make me a racing driver.
Ultimately, anyone with any sense will know there is an element of risk in this kind of activity. Whether you ride a mountain bike or a road bike, there will always be risks. Most sporting events carry risks of accidents and injuries. By participating you accept responsibility of these risks. Lewis Hamilton will accept that driving his Mercedes at 200mph involves a high amount of risk, but he still chooses to do so. Rachel Atherton knows there is high risk of injury when racing her mountain bike at high speed downhill over extreme terrain and doesn’t blame others if she comes off and injures herself.
We now live in a blame society and I hate it. I’ve come off my mountain bike myself during an Enduro event leaving me injured. I was off work for 4 weeks on just statutory sick pay leaving me out of pocket, I had to buy new wheels for my bike as mine had buckled in the accident and buy a new helmet as I cracked mine after hitting my head on a rock which all cost quite a lot of money. Did I look to blame someone? Did I sue the event organisers? No, I didn’t. It was an accident. I knew the risks of the sport I love before I took part. I’m old enough to know what I am capable of and I wasn’t forced by anyone to do it. I know my accident is nothing compared to this victim in question but the principles are still the same. It was an accident. There was no one to blame. Just as if you had a sneezing fit whilst driving and crashed your car into a tree and injured yourself. Sometimes, unlucky things just happen and the sooner people accept that without looking for someone else to blame, the better.
What really concerns me though is the ramifications if this case falls in favour of the victim. Worms would be spilling from the can all over the place. The knock on effects could be huge and possibly devastating for the sport of Mountain Biking and cycling in general. Would instructors stop instructing in case they are sued if someone falls off? Would guided rides be stopped in case the guide is sued because someone fell off because they failed to point out that some rocks might be slippery after a recent rain fall? Would trail centres close in case someone ignored the warning signs and hit a tree after taking on a section that was too difficult for their ability? And would bike shops be sued for not warning cyclists their new brake pads would need to be bedded in? It would open the floodgates for so many people looking to make money from their own inability to accept responsibility.
If you chose to participate in something risky, accept that risk or don’t do it and spoil it for everyone else. Its a simple choice. Accidents happen. Sometimes, and some people might find this hard to believe, there is no one to blame. It’s just bad luck.