Health and safety high hurdles

Posted: 24th May 2013

RacecourseIn a ruling which underlines that the tough requirements of health and safety rules can be substantially more stringent than duties imposed at common law, the Court of Appeal has upheld a £58,000 damages claim by a jockey who was seriously injured in a fall at Cheltenham racecourse.

Philip Hide, who rode over 400 winners during his career, suffered a shattered hip and serious head injuries when his horse fell during a race at Prestbury Park in 2006. In what was described as a ‘1-in-1,000 incident’, his mount stumbled after the first hurdle and Mr Hide was hurled into the metal base of a track-side barrier.

Mr Hide had to be put into a medically induced coma whilst doctors rebuilt his left hip. He fought his way back to fitness and resumed his racing career but the hip had to be replaced after his retirement in 2010. He sued the track’s owners, Jockey Club Racecourses Limited (JCRL), alleging that the accident resulted from breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (the regulations).

His case was dismissed at first instance after JCRL argued that the accident was a bizarre one-off that could not reasonably have been foreseen or guarded against. The company prided itself on the safety measure in place at the Cheltenham course and pointed out that they were fully compliant with British Horseracing Board guidelines.

The judge had expressed concerns in respect of the ‘remorseless tide’ of health and safety legislation and that a ruling in favour of Mr Hide might have the result that racecourses would have to become so undemanding that all horses would be able to negotiate them without mishap.

In allowing the jockey’s appeal against that decision, the court emphasised that the regulations ‘exist in a world different from the common law’ and that the judge had been wrong to import into his interpretation of the regulations the common law concept of ‘reasonable foreseeability’.

Whilst acknowledging that the accident was 'not at all likely' to occur, the court ruled that it was foreseeable in the sense that it was possible and that the burden was upon JCRL to prove that it was an ‘exceptional event’ that could not have been avoided by reasonable endeavours. Pointing to the 'uncompromising' terms of the regulations, the court noted that the padding on the railings 'could have been thicker' and that the barrier could have been placed further from the fence.

The court agreed that 'jump racing is dangerous’, requiring a 'great deal of guts as well as a great deal of skill' on the part of jockeys, and emphasised that the ruling in Mr Hide’s favour would not require JCRL and other racecourse operators to ‘achieve the impossible’. The decision did not mean that the hazards of hurdle racing could not lawfully remain.

The regulations - whilst not going as far as to impose ‘strict’ liability on employers and others - were ‘evidently designed to be stringent’ and their terms had been breached by a combination of the railings' construction and their proximity to the hurdle, the court concluded.