An exciting, but highly risky, sport is gaining supporters in West Virginia and its neighboring states: extreme races. More than one million participants each year clamor to be a part of races that, on any given day, may contain obstacles ranging from mud pits to electric wires to climbing walls. Each extreme race tries to outdo the other, creating ever more daunting courses. Not surprisingly, the more challenging these races become, the more likely they are to lead to injuries, fatalities, and lawsuits.
For example, one West Virginia race led to a person drowning during an obstacle known as Walk the Plank, which was a 15-foot drop into muddy, cold water. Other participants in that race — as many as 19 — were treated for heart attacks, electric shock, and hypothermia. During another race held in Richmond, Virginia, a man sustained injuries after diving into a mud pit that left him paralyzed.
Following the drowning death, Tough Mudder’s spokesperson claimed that the company reviewed the safety procedures and found them to be satisfactory. Yet some argue that these races — which include the popular Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and Spartan races — have nominal supervision, and that people are mistaken to believe that these races are safe. Some obstacles are modeled after military training regimes, and the organizers do not realize how little room for error there is. In addition, there is currently no federal or state regulation of these events, and so far there has been no push for government oversight.
While overall, the amount of injuries remains small, that still has not stemmed concerns. Although organizers attempt to prevent lawsuits by requiring participants to sign a waiver beforehand, these waivers are not always enforceable. A waiver is not valid if it is too broad, stating that the person may never sue, or if it can be shown that the organizers were reckless according to the laws of that state. In any event, the waivers have not stopped lawsuits by many who were injured or who lost a loved one to one of the races. For instance, the man in Virginia who was paralyzed claimed that the mud pool was shallower than it appeared, that there were no warning signs posted as to the pool’s depth, and that the race organizers encouraged diving. A participant in a different race are also filing lawsuits after she hit a pile of rocks after sliding on a tarp down a hillside, breaking several bones in her ankle. She needed to have 13 screws inserted and walks with a limp.
It is true that many people are drawn to the danger element in these races, wanting to test themselves against extreme elements like fire. However, these are not real extreme events, but simulated obstacles on property owned or rented by someone else, for which the participants pay money. The event organizers need to have standards in place to prevent serious injury or to help those whose life or health is at risk. In this situation, the race participants are known as “invitees,” business guests on the property or members of the general public. Property owners or renters have strict obligations to invitees, including warning or preventing hazards that they should have known about based on reasonable inspection. If you are a guest on someone else’s property and are injured through no fault of your own, you should not hesitate to hire a West Virginia premise liability attorney and file a lawsuit. The unfortunate thing with these races is that many people were likely within their rights to sue, but were frightened off by the waivers they had to sign.