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Case Commentary: Hall v/s Brooklands Auto Racing Club

Facts:
Defendant has a motor racing track where races are hosted. The track was oval-shaped, a long, straight stretch, with railings and barricades for safety purposes. Spectators can come to watch the race by buying tickets and getting a seat in the seating area. Some people preferred to stand along the railing.

On one fine day when the race was going on, two cars were very close to each other and travelling at 100 miles per hour. After some time, the two cars collided with each other, and it shot into the air, fell into the railing, and bounced in the sitting area, thereby killing two spectators and injuring others. No such accident had occurred before in the history of such sports.

One of the spectators (the plaintiff) who had also come to watch the races at Brooklands auto racing club filed an action, alleging that the premises had not been adequately safe for spectators and that inviting spectators to witness such a dangerous sport without providing any notices or warnings is a breach of contract and damages must be provided to the injured persons.

Plaintiff: Christopher Hall v/s Defandant: Brooklands Auto-Racing Club
Citation: (1933) 1kb 205
Court: House Of Lords
Judges: Lord Greer Ljj And Lord Scrutton

Issues:
  1. Was it reasonably foreseeable to prevent the cars from crossing the barrier?
  2. Was the defendant company guilty of any negligence whereby injury is caused to the plaintiff?

Ratio Decidendi:
In this case, doctrine of voluntary non-fit injuria was applied in this case. Considering that this was the first time that such an injury occurred, the court decided that there was no negligence on the part of the defendant's company, as in high-risk games such accidents are common. The plaintiff had consented to the probable risks involved while purchasing the tickets for the event, and it was also assumed that he had knowledge of the risks involved in these games.

Arguments:
  • The plaintiff himself was unable to give evidence as to how the accident happened. He called for experts, who contended that the place is unsafe for spectators and that such events can also happen in the future.
  • The defendant argued that there was no proof on which it could be held that the accident happened through any breach of duty by the defendant's company.
  • The defendant makes a two-fold argument: first the accident was of extraordinary character and there was no negligence on the part of the defendant in failing to provide necessary precautions. Second, the defendant claimed that by purchasing the ticket, the plaintiff voluntarily agreed to the risks of the sport.
  • The defendant supported his argument with different witnesses who said no such incidents have ever happened before in Brooklands and proper care was taken by Brooklands Auto Racing Company to prevent any harm to the spectators.

Judgement:
  • Lord Justice Scrutton, while reversing the judgement that was in favor of the plaintiff at the trial court, said that he could not think of a reasonable care required for the strengthening of the barrier for the safety of the spectator.
  • The motor track had been in use for more than 23 years, and this was the first time an accident of this nature had happened. It was not reasonably foreseeable to prevent this accident. It was an extraordinary and unlikely event that no one could have anticipated.
  • Lord Scrutton was of the opinion that no barricade could prevent this accident. A reasonable man couldn't think of hitting cars at an angle where the car would bump off the railing and therefore the Brooklands Motor Racing Company was not liable.
  •  It was the duty of the defendant to take the necessary precautions for all the foreseeable incidents, as a prudent and reasonable man would do in any case. However, the defendants are under no duty to guard against the risk that was reasonably unforeseeable or the danger that was inherent or common in sports. The plaintiff implied his consent to the risk of injury in the sport at the time of purchasing the ticket.
  • The defendants were not required to prevent the risk of any such incident that no investigation, audit, or review has revealed.
  • The defendants were held not liable because due care was taken to prevent the accident and no damages were given to the plaintiff.

Comments:
When this case occurred, it was the first time that such type of collision between the cars hitting the railing at the right angle and crossing the railing has ever happened. The drivers who collided were not guilty of any negligence. This case represents a turning point in the Volentia non-fit injuria doctrine.

However, to prevent these accidents in the future, the distance between the racing cars and the barrier should be increased as per proper research and analysis. Proper safety measures should be taken, and proper guidelines for spectators should also be properly explained to all the viewers. People should not be allowed to stand along or near the railing to prevent greater injuries.

In my opinion, there should be proper warnings given to the spectators before buying the tickets. Proper safety measures should be taken for spectators to avoid injuries while watching such sports. In this case too, if the height or number of the barriers were increased, the injuries could have been avoided.

Brooklands Racing Club should have taken more care than was required to avoid unforeseen injuries that can be caused in such sports. There should be proper security to check if anyone from the crowd is crossing the barricade or hanging near the railing. The accident happened at the fastest part of the course, so there should be special protection at these parts.

There should be a rule requiring these clubs to compensate those who died or were injured while participating in such sports. People watch these sports for entertainment purposes, not for injuries. New technologies should be adopted to prevent such cases.

Conclusion
The maxim "Volenti non-fit injuria" is a defence that can be used when the plaintiff voluntarily agrees to suffer loss or harm. However, cases of this nature must be decided based on the facts and circumstances. In modern times, as technology has evolved, security and safety also must increase to meet the changing needs.

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