A NEW SPORTING RISK.
ALEGAL case of considerable interest to motor sportsmen was decided last month, when, in the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division, a Mr. Davi11 brought an action against a Mr. Cotgrove, claiming damages in respect of personal injuries suffered as a result of the defendant knocking him down with his motor cycle in the course of a hill climb. The accident occurred on October 20th of last year, during the Essex A.C.’s hill climb at Thundersley.
The plaintiff was walking up the hill and stopped at a curve to talk to two friends. They stood on the grass border of the road. While conversing, the defendant came round the bend, but did not slacken his speed, which was from 40 to 50 miles an hour. The motor cycle suddenly shot across the road and charging against the plaintiff, pushed him against the bank. As a result both his legs were broken by the ankle, and his right wrist was fractured. The defendant had pleaded that the police had been given notice of the intended contest and that warnings had been posted, indicating the fixture to the public. The plaintiff by his presence had presumably accepted the risk. It was further pleaded that the accident was due to a latent defect in the motor cycle. It could not be said, however, that the defence of accepted risk was open to the defendant because lie was engaged in the commission of an unlawful act. With regard to the defect, no accident would have occurred if undue strain had not been put on the machine.
Mr. Davi11, the plaintiff in evidence, said he had not been warned that it was dangerous to stand in the position he had taken up. A notice had been posted on the opposite side of the road warning people not to stand there. He saw a motor cycle come round the curve at about 40 to 50 miles an hour, when the wheel of the sidecar attached to the cycle was lifted off the ground, the machine then dashed across the road and knocked him down. His Lordship said that in the absence of clear statutory authority, the police had no right to restrict the use of the highway to any of His Majesty’s subjects. People had a right to pass and repass along the highway and to . make a reasonable delay on it, but no one had the right to use a highway for racing. It had been laid down in a previous case that a right of highway did not include
a right to race, and therefore it might well be unlawful for other reasons to carry out races at a maximum speed.
The Chief Constable of Essex said he was present at the contest and that he had given permission for the event to be held, saying at the same time that he had no authority to allow hill climbing contests, but that the police would not take action for excessive speed, providing the contests were carried out on a by-road which was little used, that the permission of the local authority responsible for the upkeep of the road had been obtained and that residents in the neighbourhood raised no objection.
His Lordship in summing up said that there was no authority to turn a highway into a race course, but every effort had been made not to impair the rights of anyone who desired to use the road. This, however, did not absolve the defendant from the duty of exercising reasonable care.
The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for £420.
The outcome of this case must induce a good many motoring sportsmen seriously to reconsider their own position. The sport itself is sufficiently expensive without there being added the ever-present risk of having to meet a bill for damages running well into three figures. In the ordinary way a motorist makes Provision for such an occurrence by taking out a policy of insurance and it may be that many of those who take part in hill climbs and similar events on the highway are under the impression that such an ordinary insurance policy would cover them against any such risk of that described above. It is very doubtful, however, whether that is actually the case. In the majority of instances we imagine that enqui ry will show that such an accident would not be accepted by the insurance company as reasonable risk and it therefore behoves every motorist who takes part in such competitions to overhaul his insurance policy beforehand, to make quite sure that in the event of an accident of this kind he is suitably covered. In this connection, special interest attaches to the article which appears on the opposite page. It is written by an insurance expert who advises that such enquiries should•be made direct to the head office of the insurance company concerned, so as to obviate the risk of a misunderstanding arising through taking the dubious statement of some more or less unauthorised agent.