Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of Portsmouth Youth Activities Committee v Poppleton  E.W.C.A. Civ 646, it was held that where there was an inherent risk of injury as a result of a voluntarily undertaken activity, the occupier of the land where that activity occurred on is not required to prevent an individual from engaging in that activity, or to train or supervise him whilst he did it.
Facts of the Case
- D owned an indoor climbing premises where members of the public could experience bouldering; low level simulated rock climbing without ropes.
- The premises comprised purpose-built artificial climbing walls reaching at maximum 16 feet above the floor. The floor was covered from wall to wall with shock absorbent 12 inch matting.
- C, a relatively inexperienced climber, went into the premises with a group of friends, two being more experienced climbers. He had climbed a bouldering wall in the premises 3 or 4 times before.
- C was given no explanation of risks, instruction or questions into his ability as a climber. Rules forbidding jumping were displayed outside the climbing room but C was not referred to them.
- C attempted to leap from the back wall to a buttress on the opposite wall. C lost his grip and landed on his head on the matting below, leaving him tetraplegic.
- C brought a damages claim on the grounds that D failed to provide sufficient supervision and had breached the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.
- Did C have a duty to provide instruction/supervision to C to avoid a risk considered inherent to the premises/activity?
Held by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
- Finding for D, that C engaged in climbing of his own volition and the risk of falling was plainly obvious. It was obvious that no amount of matting would avoid the possibility of injury from an awkward fall.
- The law did not require D to prevent C from engaging in the activity, nor was it required to train or supervise him whilst he did it. It made no difference that the rules which they displayed could have been more prominent.
Lord Justice May
- C was shown no rules, instruction or any explanation of risks, nor was he asked to sign any disclaimer notice. D operated, as many other comparable institutions do, by providing suitable premises and equipment and leaving visitors to use them sensibly without supervision.
- The risk of falling from the wall was plainly obvious. The judge held that the risk that the matting might not in every case protect a falling climber from serious injury was not obvious. This finding is not sustainable.
- Even without evidence, it is obvious that no amount of matting will absolutely avoid the risk of possibly severe injury from an awkward fall. The possibility of such a fall is an obvious and inherent risk of this kind of climbing. C’s evidence that he did not think it was that risky, indicating that he knew the risk was there.
- “There being inherent and obvious risks in the activity which C was voluntarily undertaking, the law did not in my view require D 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. It makes no difference to this analysis that D charged C to use the climbing wall, nor that the rules which they displayed could have been more prominent” .