I was surprised and saddened to read about the death of a 23 year old man acting as a human cannonball in Kent.
Reports that he had only been in the job for two weeks before the accident makes it all the more poignant. Thinking about the incident made me consider the likely legal issues that a case such as this would raise. Clearly evidence of a defective safety net would satisfy the test for a breach of a duty of care.
It seems that as well as the human cannonball stunt, the show also included pyrotechnics, motorcycle jumps and monster trucks. It would therefore follow that participants in the show would have been aware of the high risk factors involved in stunts of this type.
The potential Defendants will no doubt seek to raise issues such that the victim had taken a voluntary assumption of risk by seeking to take part in the stunt and/or that he was also at fault for having known of the potential risk and chose to take part despite the dangers.
They may also seek to rely on section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006 which allows the Courts to have discretion when considering whether the standard of care which might otherwise apply may prevent what could be deemed as a “desirable activity".
Whilst it is unlikely that this is a case where section 1 would have applicability as the risks associated with the stunt show are clearly identifiable, the issue of contributory fault or an assumption of risk on the part of the victim would require further consideration.
It would be easier to dismiss allegations of contributory fault following cases such as Ryan v Manbre Sugars 1970 where the Court of Appeal provided that mere knowledge of the existence of a danger does not prove contributory negligence in respect of that danger.
As to a voluntary assumption of risk, although the victim clearly consented to the risk of injury by taking part in the stunt, it would be reasonable to argue that he did not consent to the risk of injury flowing from management's failure to ensure that its safety arrangements were as carefully worked out as they might have been.
Alicia Alinia is a solicitor in the London office of Slater and Gordon Lawyers. Alicia deals with all areas of Personal Injury, and has a particular interest in Accident at Work Claims.