Gordon -v- Louth Motorcycle Racing Club, [2008] IEHC 175 (2008)

Docket Number:Date of Delivery:
Party Name:Gordon, Louth Motorcycle Racing Club
Judge:Clark J.
 
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THE HIGH COURT2001 No. 15543PBETWEENNORMAN GORDON PLAINTIFF AND

LOUTH MOTORCYCLE RACING CLUBDEFENDANT JUDGMENT delivered by Ms. Justice Clark on the 13th. day of June 2008

1. This action involves a claim for damages for personal injury sustained by the plaintiff Norman Gordon while a competitor in a motorcycle road race which took place on the 27th June, 1999. The race was one of a series of races which together make up the Motor Cycling Road Race Championship of Ireland. It was organised by the defendants who are experienced road racing organisers and took place on a closed off section of the main Dublin to Belfast road just outside Dundalk in County Louth. The plaintiff suffered injury when his bike lost control and mounted the Ballymascanlan roundabout where he was thrown from the bike hitting his leg against an unguarded kerb on the opposite side of the roundabout.

2. Norman Gordon alleges that his injuries were sustained because of the negligence of the promoters who, in breach of their own rules permitted a support rider confined to riding a 750cc motorcycle to compete on a 1000cc motorcycle. He alleges that this novice road racer did not have the experience to control such a powerful motorcycle and that his lack of experience contributed to his cutting across the plaintiff's path thus causing the plaintiff to crash. He also alleges that the organisers of the course failed to insulate or otherwise protect the kerb of the left side of the roundabout thus creating an unnecessary risk to competitors in the race at a known and anticipated danger point.

3. All matters were in dispute and the case ran over seven days during which time little was agreed between the parties. It was apparent that all witnesses were deeply and passionately involved in the sport of motorcycle road racing. This passion sometimes coloured the evidence creating confusion and discord where none was necessary. At the end of the day, the evidence of some witnesses was more credible than that of others and was more consistent with the evidence of the plaintiff than with the evidence given by some of the defence witnesses.

4. There was no issue of volenti or of the plaintiff's entitlement to bring these proceedings and the case was presented as a simple negligence action. An enormous amount of evidence dealt with issues which ultimately were not relevant to the cause of the plaintiff's injury which was the failure to protect an area of kerbing but dealt rather with whether a support rider should have been permitted to ride a 1000cc bike in an open road race.

The evidence5. Norman Gordon is a motorcycle enthusiast and has been involved in road racing motorcycles for many years. He comes from outside Ballymena and is now approaching his forty fifth birthday. He is a self employed plasterer running a successful business. He was thirty six years old on the day of the accident which occurred on the 27th June, 1999, and was a holder of a Super A licence which is the highest category of road race licence permitting the holder to compete in all international motor cycle road racing events apart from the Isle of Man TT Race.

6. Up to the date of the accident he had been involved in national road racing as a competitor and had won or been well placed in a number of races. Since his injury he has been unable to compete but has maintained his keen interest in the sport by attending road races and has been a clerk of the course in mid Antrim since 2001. It was apparent in hearing the plaintiff that he is knowledgeable and experienced in how road races are organised, how records are kept and how safety is maintained.

7. The plaintiff accepts that motorcycle road racing is a dangerous sport and accepts that in the year 2000 there were several fatalities among competitors at motorcycle racing events. Joey Dunlop the Irish hero of motor biking and Gary Dynes, both of whom competed in the race in which the plaintiff was injured, died in road races that year. It was accepted that there have been no fatalities on the Ballymascanlan course in the twelve years of its life. The plaintiff's evidence was that as bikers take enormous risks in organised races it is up to the organisers to engage in safety measures and to identify areas where accidents are likely to occur and to minimise those risks

8. The rules of motor cycle road racing are governed by the Motorcycle Union of Ireland which covers both parts of Ireland. There is an Ulster Centre and a Southern Centre, but the rules and requirements regarding racing are uniform throughout Ireland. It was apparent that there has been a determined effort in recent years to work towards greater safety in the sport of motor bike racing on roads.

9. The plaintiff gave evidence of a joint meeting of both branches held in the Ballymascanlon Hotel in January, 1999 and convened by Ivan Davidson who gave evidence. There were four representatives from the Ulster branch and four from the Southern branch at the meeting where the Road Race Championship for 1999 was discussed. It was agreed and confirmed by minutes kept by Ivan Davidson and produced at the trial, that the limit to the size of bike to be ridden by a class of novice road racers described as "support riders" would be 750cc. This restriction was introduced in an attempt to minimise an alarming number of serious injuries and fatalities sustained by novice road race riders in the previous year. Ivan Davidson and the plaintiff who were present at the meeting believed that the newly introduced rule as to limiting support riders to 750cc applied immediately.

10. Damien Mulleady, the competitor who the plaintiff blamed for causing his accident was discussed at the meeting. He was one of a significant number of riders who were upgraded through the various levels of grades of riders. Specifically he was upgraded to...

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