A property consultant who sued his employers after he was badly injured during a team-bonding cycle race will receive only a third of the damages he sought – after a High Court judge ruled he bore the lion’s share of blame.
Simon Francis Reynolds, 49, fractured his skull when he fell from his bike after crashing into a colleague, Alastair Cracknell, at the event in Fowlmead Country Park, near Deal, Kent, in June 2008. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Mr Reynolds, of Island Wall, Whitstable, sought around £1 million from his former employers, property giants Strutt and Parker LLP, but now faces recovering only a third of any damages award, after Judge Stephen Oliver-Jones said he acted in an “aggressive manner, reckless to the consequences”.
After hearing evidence over three days, the judge said: “The collision occurred as the result of a deliberate, and tragically successful, attempt by the claimant to force Mr Cracknell out of the race altogether or, at the very least, as the result of reckless disregard for his own safety and that of Mr Cracknell.
“This isn’t a case where I’m able to find he made a momentary error of judgment or a lapse, or was momentarily careless in the flurry and excitement of the sport. He was taking a deliberate decision to behave in an aggressive manner, reckless to the consequences.”
The judge said Mr Reynolds, an experienced cyclist, could have chosen to wear one of the helmets provided by the recreation centre at Fowlmead, which were “there to be seen”. He said Strutt and Parker hadn’t breached Health and Safety at Work laws, because “having a fun day out” wasn’t the normal course of work for their employees.
However, he did find that they were responsible – as organisers of the event – for ensuring Mr Reynolds’ safety, and that they failed to do so by not carrying out a proper risk assessment. Judge Oliver-Jones said it was a matter of “common sense” that the cycle race could involve the “very obvious risk” of collision, and that those planning the event should have recommended that participants wore helmets.
He added: “There was a clear failure to carry out a sufficient and suitable risk assessment – in fact, in my judgment, there was no real risk assessment at all.” The judge said it was “highly unlikely” helmets had been recommended, because only one member of staff – Mr Cracknell – out of 12 taking part in cycling events was wearing one.
During the High Court hearing, the court heard Mr Reynolds worked at Strutt and Parker’s Canterbury office as an associate planning and development consultant. On 19 June 2008, he and his colleagues had their annual team-bonding day, during which a treasure hunt – described as a “journey of discovery around east Kent” – led them to Fowlmead Country Park.
Once there, they were split into groups and given various activities to take part in, including walking, riding tandems and racing bicycles. Mr Reynolds and three of his colleagues formed the cycle-racing group and were given a briefing before racing each other round a track. Witnesses told the court that, before embarking on the race, Mr Reynolds made a series of “right-angled turns” in front of Mr Cracknell, causing him to brake suddenly – which the other riders took as an indication the race would have a “competitive edge”.
As the cyclists approached the finish line, there was a collision between the pair, which witnesses said was a result of Mr Reynolds making a “deliberate move” to block Mr Cracknell from overtaking him. Judge Oliver-Jones said it was clear Mr Reynolds had identified Mr Cracknell as his main rival in the race, because of their previous cycling experience and “competitive spirits”.
Mr Reynolds was thrown over the handlebar of his bike and suffered the “very severe head injury” which has left him with dizziness, left-sided hearing loss, ringing in his ears, loss of taste and smell, fatigue, impaired memory and concentration, and altered personality. The court heard medical evidence during the hearing, which concluded Mr Reynolds wouldn’t have suffered the same head injury had he been wearing a helmet.
Judge Oliver-Jones ruled Strutt and Parker should pay the costs of Mr Reynolds’ legal action – which are expected to be between £300,000 and £400,000 – and ordered an interim payment on account of costs of £150,000. The amount of damages Mr Reynolds will receive will be assessed at a later date, but today’s ruling means they will be two-thirds less than he would have hoped for.