This case analysis is written by Akshaya V, a student at CMR University, School of Legal Studies, Bangalore.
A person committing a tort (civil wrong) is held liable for damages. However, when the person to whom the harm is caused consents to the infliction of such harm, he is not liable for damages. Where the plaintiff voluntarily agrees to suffer some harm and has the knowledge of risk, his consent serves as a good defence against the defendant. Thus, whenever the plaintiff is aware of the possibility of harm which is likely to be caused by an act and when he agrees to suffer the harm, the defendant is taken out from his liability. This is known as volenti non-fit injuria. The instant case talks about the complete defence of volenti non-fit injuria that a defendant can enforce.
(1933) 1 KB 205
Lord Greer LJJ and Lord Scrutton.
Year of Judgement
Law of torts
Volenti non-fit injuria
There was a motor racing track owned by the members of Brooklands Racing Club. The track was oval in shape and distanced two miles. It constituted a long stretch with the finishing line which was over a hundred feet wide. Spectators were allowed to view the races upon payment. Stands were provided for the spectators to view with safety, but many preferred to stand outside the railing. Among the competing cars, two cars were going in the finishing straight at about a hundred miles per hour. As they were approaching a sharp bend to the left, the car in front turned to the right and the other car did the same. While doing so, the car touched the offside of the former car and it shot into the air and fell into the railing, thereby killing two spectators and injuring others. In the history of racing, no such incident has happened. An action was brought by one of the defendants against the racing club for inviting the spectators to witness such a dangerous sport without giving notices or warnings.
Did the defendant Company omit to give a warning for the safety of the spectator?
Is the plea maintainable to hold the defendant liable?
Points of Determination
- The House of Lord determined that there was a failure on the part of the defendant to increase the height of the barrier, to keep spectators at a safe distance and to undertake special precaution after the incident.
- The defendant company was held liable for inviting the public at large to witness this dangerous sport without giving warning of or protection from the dangers arising from the sport.
- The burden of proof is on the defendant Company that the plaintiff had full knowledge of the extent of risk involved.
- Many a time, the consent to inflict harm on oneself may be implied or inferred from the conduct of the parties. For instance, a person who agrees to drive on the highway is presumed to consent to the risk of an accident. Similarly, when a person is witnessing a motor car race shall not be able to recover damages in case of accidents, which may not be foreseeable.
- The degree of an accident is always immeasurable and unknown. It shall be known only after the happening of an event but it is always extended to the worst case possible and consent for the same. It is similar to cases where a person has agreed to rescue a person from a restive horse, he has no action if the horse plunges on him more than usual.
- For the defence of consent to be available, the act causing the harm must not go beyond the limit of what has been consented. For instance, if a surgeon negligently performs surgery, he cannot avoid the liability by pleading the defence of consent.
- In the instant case, the consent given by the spectators extends to all the incidents (foreseeable and unforeseeable) inherent to the event of motor racing.
The Ratio of the Case
The defendant proved that this was the first time such an accident had taken place. The House of Lords decided that there was no negligence on the part of the motor car racing driver as such accidents were inherent in a racing event. When the spectators purchased tickets for witnessing the race, they had given implied consent. The doctrine of voluntary non-fit injuria was applicable since the victims had prior knowledge of the probable risks and had consented for the same.
It was the duty of the defendants to take precautions on all the foreseeable aspects 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 not reasonably foreseeable or the danger which was inherent to the sport. The plaintiff impliedly took the risk of such injury at the time of purchasing the tickets. As no accident of this nature had previously occurred, it could not be reasonably foreseeable and therefore, the defendants were not required to prevent the risk of such an accident that no amount of due diligence would have revealed. The plea was not maintainable and the defendants were not held liable to provide damages to the injured plaintiff.
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