Personal injury in the event of leisure accident, legal clarification

15 February 2019, the Norwegian Supreme Court delivered its judgment on a case in which the question was whether a business that offered RIB tours (rigid-hulled inflatable boats) had shown indemnifiable negligence when one of their passengers, a woman celebrating her bachelorette party, suffered a compression fracture in her back. The injury was suffered as the RIB operator slowed the boat, changed course, and accelerated into the waves of a ferry. The Court’s legal consideration was whether the compensation is covered through the organizer's liability insurance, or whether the injured party had sufficient information regarding the risk of such injury, so that she can be said to have accepted the risk of injury.

The Supreme Court unanimously stated that the company could not be regarded as having shown indemnifiable negligence. The Supreme Court, based on the provisions of the Norwegian Maritime Act, stated that any liability of the RIB operator presupposed that the personal injury was due to "error or neglect" on the part of the RIB operator. The Supreme Court subsequently assessed whether there were breaches in the behavioural standards of the company, but found that the company's internal guidelines clearly met the regulatory standards for security systems. The injured party had not made the operator of the RIB aware of her health concerns, despite the fact that the company had requested such information. She was voluntarily seated in the front of the boat, despite being informed that the impact was going to be greater in this part of the boat. The Supreme Court noted that navigating into the wave was not contrary to what passengers could reasonably expect on such a ride.

The Supreme Court concluded with some general remarks:

“Here, as elsewhere, it may happen that someone is injured without it being possible to point to any concrete negligent act as the cause of the incident. And even though the duty of care is strict, not every deviation from optimal behaviour indicates indemnifiable negligence.”

In March 2018, the Supreme Court assessed a case concerning the responsibility an equestrian centre had for a woman who was injured when she fell off a horse. The Court found that an equestrian who had been injured after being thrown off a horse she had rented through the center could claim compensation from the equestrian centre.

In January this year, the so-called “spinning case” was assessed by the Supreme Court. The case concerned a fitness center's responsibility for neck injuries a woman suffered when the bolt of the spinning cycle seat snapped during use. The Supreme Court believes that the risk related to the use of a fitness centre is no greater than what one has to expect in daily life, and the woman lost the case.

These judgments clarify the limits of responsibility and who the bearer of responsibility is when injuries are suffered in leisure accidents.

As new providers of fast-paced experiences and leisure activities continue to emerge, which can endanger the participants, it is important to clarify who should bear the responsibility if something goes wrong. By the three decisions mentioned in the article, one can see that the Supreme Court clarifies the responsibility for leisure accidents.

In the RIB judgment, the Supreme Court concluded that the event company has not violated the regulations that apply to this type of RIB tour, and that it is not otherwise proven to be contrary to what the passengers can reasonably expect.

The Supreme Court points out that, although there is a strict duty of care, "deviation from optimal behavior does not entail the existence of compensation-related negligence". From the fitness center judgment, one can see that the Court concluded that the risk in the fitness center is no greater than what one has to expect in daily life.

The Supreme Court came to the opposite result in the equestrian centre case and charged the equestrian center with responsibility. It was shown that for equestrian centers, it is nevertheless the case that personal injuries appear as an expected and typical consequence of activities that are run in their own interest. This distinguishes riding school activities from a horse owner who lends a horse as a friend service, where there must be room for the view of acceptance of risk if the rider is to be subjected to an injury.

Against this background, the Supreme Court found that a broader perspective must be established for the riding center in the case of personal injuries that cause the injured customers financial losses, within the typical and foreseeable. This means that the riding school is closer to insuring itself against this than the individual rider.