When hosting a client event, how far does duty of care really extend?

When hosting a client event, how far does duty of care really extend?
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In recent years the “experience economy” – valuing moments over physical goods and possessions – has grown steadily.

Adrenaline-based, physical challenges are of growing popularity, with more amateurs getting involved as part of corporate initiatives. 

Gone are the days when client hospitality might have just consisted of a drinks reception. Whether it’s a dodgeball or football tournament, go-karting or paintballing, skiing trips or abseiling, car drifting or simply wine tasting, many companies are now involved in putting on events that have health and safety implications. 

Of course, event organisers are acutely aware of their responsibility to ensure that participants understand potential hazards, and to put in place safety measures and adequate warnings.

Their duty of care is a constant focus. But where does it end? A recent court case judgement clarified this issue, and also the extent to which participants accept the risk of injury.

What happened?

The case (Philip Clarke v John Kerwin) centred on a two-day motorcycle rally through a forest in Northumberland. The claimant was injured when he fell into a ditch while attempting to overtake another rider, at speed, on a bend in the course.

The claimant – who had, on registering for the event, been given a booklet about speed limits for the course and general warnings about the need to be on the lookout for hazards – alleged that the event organiser had failed to conduct a proper inspection or risk assessment of the course and that hazards were not adequately signed. The defendant argued that the claimant had voluntarily accepted the risks inherent in taking part in the event. The defendant added that the claimant had been driving too fast for the conditions and had lost control of his bike.

The claim was dismissed. The judge concluded that the claimant had lost control of his bike because he was attempting to overtake at excessive speed round a bend, and that he should have been aware of the risks if he had read the booklet given to him by the organisers. The risk mitigation material given to the claimant by the defendant proved to be pivotal to the ruling.

The judge found that while organisers must take steps to mitigate the risks to those taking part in events, duty of care must be reasonable and participants must also take reasonable steps to ensure their own safety.

Recommendations

Though this case clearly involved a highly physical activity, the risks and principles of duty of care are not necessarily very different from those involved during client events.

And if such events occur over many different countries (for example, across central and eastern Europe), then the regional legislative differences may present additional challenges to companies as they seek to ensure that they fulfil their duty of care.

Host companies should check that the event organisers have sufficient liability insurance with a reputable insurer, and should also advise their own public liability insurers of future events.  

For more information, please contact Rachel Norris on:

rachel.norris@uk.lockton.com

+44 (0)20 7933 2353