An 11 year old boy who suffered a broken back when he tumbled over a low bridge parapet whilst cycling through woodland with his father is in line for thousands of pounds in compensation following a Court of Appeal ruling.

The boy was riding his mountain bike through the ‘Wilderness Wood’ area of a local authority-owned estate in North Yorkshire when the accident happened. As his father watched in horror, he came down a muddy embankment onto the bridge at a 45 degree angle. He shot over the parapet and plummeted 12 feet onto the bed of a stream below, suffering a number of compression fractures to his spine.

A judge ruled the local authority liable for the accident after rejecting arguments that the boy should be treated as ‘a trespasser’, having strayed off designated cycle paths. The council was aware that cyclists rode other than on dedicated routes and had taken no effective steps to stop them doing so.

The boy was thus ‘a lawful visitor’ and the council had ‘impliedly consented’ to his presence. The judge also found that the bridge’s low parapet, which could easily have been fenced off at a cost of just £200, posed real and foreseeable risks against which the council should have protected the public.

Challenging that decision, the council’s lawyers argued that there was nothing inherently unsafe about the bridge, which had been in use for centuries without any recorded mishaps. However, in refusing permission to appeal, the Court of Appeal could detect no legal error in the judge’s decision. Despite the council’s plea that the case would create a damaging precedent, there was ‘no compelling reason’ why the appeal should be heard. The amount of the boy’s damages has yet to be finally assessed.

Sports and recreational activities can pose risks, and landowners have a duty to ensure that the facilities provided are fit for purpose. If you have been injured in an accident that could have been prevented, you could be entitled to compensation.