On August 7, 2008, Stephen Campbell suffered a tragic injury while mountain biking at the Bruce Peninsula Mountain Bike Adventure Park (the “Bike Park”) in Bruce County, Ontario. After attempting an obstacle called the “Free Fall”, Mr. Campbell fell face-first over his handlebars, hitting the ground and breaking his neck. Sadly, he was rendered quadriplegic as a result.
The Bike Park is owned and maintained by the Municipal Corporation of the County of Bruce (the “County”). Mr. Campbell and his family brought a lawsuit against the County, alleging a breach of the Occupiers Liability Act.
The Bike Park featured a series of bike trails and a skills development area (the “Trials Area”) equipped with wooden obstacles, where riders could learn what to expect on the trails. The County promoted the Bike Park as a family venue.
For the obstacles in the park, the County used a rating system similar to a ski hill. Signs cautioned riders to ride within their ability, but did not warn of the specific hazards of each obstacle.
The Bike Park was unsupervised. Visitors could self-report injuries using an e-mail address or toll-free number. There was no mechanism to collect and assess serious incidents. Prior to Mr. Campbell’s fall, there were at least seven previous ambulance calls.
At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was an athletic 43-year-old with extensive mountain bike trail experience. He was at the Bike Park with his wife and two children.
The obstacle on which Mr. Campbell was injured, the “Free Fall”, was a wooden teeter-totter structure that required a rider to ride up the plank halfway, wait for the plank to pivot downwards, and then descend the other side.
The issue before the Court was whether the County had met its duty under Ontario’s Occupiers Liability Act to ensure that visitors to the Bike Park were reasonably safe. The County argued that Mr. Campbell had assumed the risks inherent in the sport of mountain biking. The trial judge rejected this argument. While there was no doubt that Mr. Campbell assumed the risks of riding on the trails, due to the lack of warnings he was unable to properly assess the risks involved in attempting the “Free Fall”. The trial judge further found the County had breached its duty in five ways:
• Failure to post proper warning signs with respect to the dangers of the specific obstacles;
• Negligent promotion of the Bike Park as a family venue;
• Failure to monitor risks and injuries;
• Failure to provide an “adequate progression of qualifiers”; and
• Failure to make the Trials Area a low-risk training area.
As a result of these breaches, the trial judge found that the County was 100% at fault for Mr. Campbell’s accident. This decision was upheld on appeal.
As the sport of mountain biking becomes increasingly mainstream, municipalities that operate bike parks must give careful consideration to risk management. This case demonstrates the importance of appropriately worded signage and a system for monitoring accidents.