In the matter of Lightfoot v Rockingham Wild Encounters Pty Ltd  WADC 62, the Claimant and her friend were passengers on a boat called “100% Wild”. This vessel was operated by the defendant, Rockingham Wild Encounters P/L (RWE) for the purpose of taking paying passengers on dolphin watching cruises. The skipper of the vessel was an experienced master. Prior to boarding the vessel, Claimant and her friend attended at the RWE’s office to collect and pay for their tickets. She was asked to sign a waiver of liability in relation to the trip at that time and did so.
On the way, out of Cockburn Sound during the tour, the skipper navigated the boat in a westerly direction through a gap in a reef situated between John Point and John Ledge. The vessel encountered some waves, then a larger wave, which caused the claimant to rise out of her seat and come down hard, onto the same seat, striking her back against its edge. As a result of the impact she received a serious spinal injury, which required her to be transferred to hospital, ultimately undergoing surgery two days later. She has recovered from the surgery, but was left with disabilities and restrictions and faces further surgery.
The claimant issued a writ against RWE, claiming damages for personal injury. The claimant pleaded that RWE had breached its duty to take reasonable care of her to ensure that she was not exposed to the risk of injury during the tour on 100% Wild.
At trial, the Claimant relied only upon RWE, its servants or agents being negligent in that the master navigated the boat into an area where it was foreseeable that it could encounter large swell/waves which could endanger the safety of passengers seated near the front of the boat including the Claimant.
The judge stated the briefing given before the tour to the Claimant and other passengers was not sufficient to negative the duty of care owed by RWE to her and went to find that the master was not negligent as the probability of a sudden large wave appearing in those waters was remote.
The judge then went on to analyse the waiver and considered whether it indemnified RWE against the Claimant’s claim and concluded that although the master had not been reckless, the drafting of the indemnity was not limited to personal injury as it had also included property damage and was therefore ineffective.
It’s important to note that had RWE been negligent, the waiver would not have applied and RWE would have been liable to the Claimant in damages.
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