Falling off a climbing wall at a sports centre

Duty of Care and the Management of Health and Safety Work Regulations 1999

The claimant went with his friends to an activity centre where there was a free climbing wall. He had no great experience of climbing but had been a couple of times before. He was not given any advice or supervised or monitored in any way.

He attempted to copy a manoeuvre a friend had made but fell onto the safety mat beneath him. He suffered serious spinal injury. He said he would not have tried the same manoeuvre in a natural situation outside because he would not have the security of the matting to land upon.

It was held that there was a common law duty to inform and warn the claimant as to the latent danger of falling onto the matting and not to be misled into believing that falling off the wall was safe because there was matting below. There had been literature by the British Mountaineering Council and an HSE video- “Get a Grip” - that had warned that thick matting tended to induce a false feeling of security in indoor climbers.

Incidentally the court was not prepared to find there was a duty of care to train, supervise, monitor and generally oversee the climbing as that would create a precedent for duty of care beyond the current law and impose a precedent for all visitors to sports centres where there was any danger of injury (for example dry ski slopes, swimming pools).

So, the claimant won only on the allegation that he should have been warned the matting would not prevent injury. Because the claimant had tried a risky manoeuvre, which he knew to be potentially beyond his capabilities, he was found 75 per cent to blame for his own injuries.

Gary Christopher Poppleton -v- The Trustees of the Portsmouth Youth Activities Committee (a charity). 2007 EWHC 1567 (QB), 12 July 2007.