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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018

Wooldridge v Sumner [1963] 2 QB 43



The claimant was a photographer working at a horse show. He was situated within the ring where the horse show took place (rather than behind the spectator barriers) when one of the horses galloped towards him at a significant speed after the rider lost control of it, knocking him down. The claimant sued the defendant in the tort of negligence.


If negligence is established, a defendant may still avoid liability by raising the defence of volenti non fit injuria. This defence applies to cases where the claimant consents to the risk of injury, and prevents the claimant from succeeding if that risk manifests by negating the duty of care.

The issue was whether the defence applied in this case, given that the claimant was within the ring rather than behind the protective barriers.


The High Court held the defendant not liable.

The High Court held that for the defence of volenti non fit injuria to apply, it was not enough that the claimant consented to a generic risk of injury. Rather, the claimant had to consent to the lack of reasonable care which produced the risk. This requires the claimant to have complete knowledge and understanding of the extent and nature of the risk.

In the case sporting events, however, spectators can be taken to know of and consent to the risk of the sportsman making errors of judgement or skill, given the fast-paced nature of the activity, unless the sportsman was acting with deliberate or reckless disregard for the spectator’s safety.

In this case, the sportsman merely made an error of judgement, and the claimant had chosen to position himself close enough to risk such errors affecting him.

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