High-Stakes Rodeo Legal Showdown: Landmark Decision in Tapp v Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft & Rodeo Association Reshapes Risk Assessment in Extreme Sports

Mar 5, 2024 | Publication

In a precedent-setting ruling, the High Court of Australia delivered a significant decision in the case of Tapp v Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft & Rodeo Association Limited [2022] HCA 11, reshaping the landscape of liability in recreational activities.

The case revolved around an incident during a campdrafting competition, a sport involving horseback riders working with cattle. The appellant, while participating in the competition, suffered injuries when her horse slipped on the arena surface, causing both horse and rider to fall.

Central to the case was the interpretation of the Civil Liability Act (CLA) regarding obvious risks in dangerous recreational activities. While campdrafting is acknowledged as inherently risky under s. 5K of the CLA, the appellant argued that her injury stemmed from a risk not considered obvious under s. 5L.

Prior to the appellant’s fall, four other competitors had also fallen from their horses, prompting concerns about the slippery ground. Despite this, the competition proceeded. The High Court determined that the risk in question was the danger of falling from a horse due to the surface of the arena substantially deteriorating beyond normal expectations.

Crucially, the Court ruled that for the defendant to rely on s. 5L, they needed to prove that this specific risk was obvious to the appellant. However, the appellant was unaware of the prior falls, did not inspect the arena, and had safely competed earlier in the day with her family.

The Court emphasised that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position should have taken immediate action to address the substantially elevated risk, such as halting the event, especially considering the prior falls. Failure to do so constituted negligence on the part of the defendant.

This decision underscores the duty of organizers of recreational activities to ensure participant safety by promptly addressing foreseeable risks. It sets a precedent for assessing liability in similar contexts, highlighting the importance of proactive risk management to prevent injuries.

The ruling serves as a reminder to all organisers of recreational activities to prioritize participant safety and take swift action in response to heightened risks, ultimately contributing to a safer and more responsible recreational environment.

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