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Mountain Biking Instructor Ordered to Pay Damages to Paralysed Solicitor

Mountain Biking Instructor Ordered to Pay Damages to Paralysed Solicitor

Coaches have to carry out proper assessments of the skills and capabilities of those they are teaching.

Following on from my colleague Joanne Clancy's excellent blog on whether cyclists should wear helmets it brought to mind a recent case involving mountain bikes - Ahmed v MacLean, where the estimated damages are in excess of £3million.

In that case the claimant, Asif Ahmed, a 47-year-old lawyer, decided to take a course in mountain biking run by the defendant, a professional mountain biking instructor.  A reasonably fit individual, he had some limited experience of riding a mountain bike off road but mostly on the level areas and was a relative novice.

The defendant had not carried out any formal assessment of Mr Ahmed's skills or capabilities as a mountain biker and the court’s conclusion was that he was overly optimistic as to the ability of those attending his courses to keep pace with the instruction and training which he provided.  No proper assessment was undertaken and accordingly there was lack of training on how to ride down a particular hill.  The claimant’s front wheel jammed in what appeared to be a grassy mound, sending Mr Ahmed over the top of the handlebars and landing on the ground at the bottom of the slope.  He sustained a serious spinal injury which has had a significant impact on his life.

The court concluded, based on the facts of this particular day, that the defendant had failed to carry out his tuition with reasonable skill and care so as to enable the claimant to ride down the slope in safety.  The main criticism was that as he had failed to carry out an adequate assessment of the claimant's individual skill level at the commencement of the course, he did not provide tuition tailored to the claimant's capabilities and he had failed to provide sufficient instruction as to the route to take.

Although the court found that the defendant was liable for the accident they did not find him 100% liable.  There is some authority from a similar case involving a skiing lesson (Anderson v Lyotier (trading as Snowbizz)) that the claimant has to bear some responsibility in that if they either know they lack the ability to carry out the task or at least feel sufficiently concerned for their safety they should notify the tutor or coach about that. Failure to do so results in the claimant being partly to blame.  In the Anderson case the claimant was found to be one third liable for the accident but Mr Ahmed was only found liable for 20% of the accident.  Although this may at first seem contradictory, there are differences in the facts between the two cases which would justify a different proportion of the blame between the tutor and the pupil.

There are lessons to be learnt from this case by both mountain biking instructors (or instructors of any inherently dangerous activity) and also those attending such courses.  It is very important that a coach carries out a proper assessment of the skills and capabilities of those they are teaching and use that to assess the risks associated with the course about to be undertaken.  A coaching plan should be prepared to minimise the risks identified and that should be documented, reviewed and adhered to as rigorously as possible.

From the perspective of a person attending such a course the main lesson to learn is that you should not be afraid to speak up if you are not sure what you are doing and you feel unsafe.  If concerns are raised with the coach, they should deal with them in an appropriate and sensitive manner.

If you have had an accident whilst undertaking an extreme sport, contact Mike Kemp on 01382 723 171 or . Alternatively, contact the Personal Injury Team on 01382 229 111 who will be pleased to assist further.

Posted by Mike Kemp


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