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Extreme sports companies should carry insurance cover f...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

The high before the fall: Proper oversight of and insurance needed against injuries from commercial extreme sports

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Tzvi Brivik is a director at Malcolm Lyons & Brivik and the founder of LegalLyons, the firm’s secure, online, legal consulting division. He has substantial experience in labour law, medical malpractice, personal injury and discrimination matters – including ground-breaking litigation regarding the rights of whistle-blowers.

What local paragliding companies and other extreme sport service providers fail to tell consumers is that in the event of a crash or other injury, no insurance exists to cover the personal injuries that may be sustained by clients — even where the cause is the negligence of a highly experienced, certified instructor.

“Wanna Get High?” — so begins one of Cape Town’s popular tourist activity company’s website home pages.

Although prices vary across the activities on offer and service providers, for just R950 one may, for example, purchase a standard, tandem, paragliding flight and for an extra R250, a Go-Pro video and photos will be included — both with “Pure Excitement Guaranteed”.

Unless of course the glider crashes and severe injuries are sustained.

While many more harm-free flights (and shark dives for that matter) take place relative to the number of fateful ones where injuries (some severe) are sustained, extreme sports websites, marketing initiatives, pre-flight or dive information and/or training sessions generally fail to mention the harm rate at all.

On the contrary, Cape Town paragliding companies state on their websites, in answer to the frequently asked question, “is paragliding dangerous?”:

“Not at all.”

As one website states, “the take-off is simple and landings are soft and safe. [Our] pilots take no risks at all. [We] use only the safest paragliding equipment and our expert pilots make decisions based on their own safety as well as that of the paragliding candidate student. Paragliding is not entirely risk-free — but then neither is driving a car.”

Or:

“Paragliding as in any other form of flight has inherent dangers but [our] pilots are all highly respected Sahpa/Raasa Certified Tandem Paragliding Instructors giving you peace of mind when you come paragliding with us. Safety is always our main concern. This reflects in our excellent safety record.”

What local paragliding companies and other such service providers also fail to tell local and foreign would-be high flyers is that in the event of a crash or other injury, no insurance exists to cover the personal injuries that may be sustained by passengers on such flights — even where the cause is the negligence of the highly experienced, Sahpa certified instructor.

Not the medical injuries; not the past or future loss of earnings that may result from being injured; not the emotional or psychological shock and/or pain. Nothing.

Oh, wait, they do make one sign an indemnity form prior to launching — well, sometimes, not always, just mostly — indemnifying the service-providing company and the pilot (called school and instructor — even though no course is provided and one can hardly be classified as a student in the case of a one-off, tandem flight). This, all the while assuring one about how highly experienced and licensed their pilots are, and while there are risks, nothing is going to happen to your family/ friend/ guest.

While third party insurance exists in the unfortunate event of the pilot/instructor crashing into a vehicle or spectating bystander upon landing, no such insurance exists for injured passengers. Injured passengers like Ms S, a 25-year-old international tourist on holiday in beautiful Cape Town who believed the promise of satisfaction guaranteed and trusted the experience of the pilot/instructor, only to crash into the Sea Point seawall due to the pilot/instructor’s negligence. The negligence of the pilot/instructor in question led to Ms S sustaining severe injuries including a bone and skull fracture, a fractured pelvis as well as an ankle and head injury. She was further comatose for a period and endured a lengthy stay in hospital.

In such cases, injured passengers are required to look to their personal health or holiday insurance cover for assistance — if any exists and if injuries resulting from so-called “extreme sports” are not excluded. In Ms S’s case, she was left having to raise funds to cover her medical expenses on one of the internet crowdfunding websites, seeking donations from caring strangers.   

So, as the weather warms up and outdoor activities increase, the question arises as to why there is no requirement for such service providers to be honest about the risks involved in engaging in the services on offer and why they are not disallowed from downplaying them?

The question further arises as to why service providers are not required to carry insurance cover to adequately care for passengers in the event of harm as a prerequisite for obtaining a licence to operate?

Just as it is not unusual for companies moving goods to require comprehensive insurance cover, which in some cases is even underwritten, in order to obtain the necessary permit(s) to operate, so too should so-called extreme sport service providers require the same prior to receiving a permit to operate, and, indeed, the opportunity to launch untrained, inexperienced passengers off Cape Town’s mountains and other sites.

Do those who engage in tandem, extreme sports activities like paragliding, skydiving or shark diving (for example) deserve to shoulder the cost of the falls alone when they occur — and they do occur — due to the fault of the service providing company or its staff? Or should there be greater safety mechanisms in place to protect trusting customers when things go horribly wrong?

Having seen the life-curtailing harms that result from severe injuries, I vote for the latter. If it was your friend, loved one or guest, wouldn’t you? DM

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