Showjumping course designer Brian Lear has been unsuccessful in his legal bid for compensation following a freak accident involving his own horsebox.
High Court Judge Mr Justice Picken described the case as “truly tragic” as he passed judgement on 14 March.
Mr Lear broke his spine at the 2011 Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead when he was crushed beneath the weight of the box’s ramp, leaving him wheelchair-bound (news, 4 August 2011).
The 65-year-old was trying to open the hydraulic ramp to allow some air for his horse, Doonaveeragh, when it unexpectedly swung down — crashing onto his head.
Nearly five years after the tragedy, Mr Lear, of Ditchling, Sussex, sued the Showground’s owners, Hickstead Ltd, and the contractors who arranged parking at the event: WH Security Ltd.
However, the judge cleared both companies of negligence over the accident, holding that every reasonable step was taken to ensure the car park was properly managed.
“It is impossible to have anything but sympathy for Mr Lear in his current position,” he told the court.
“It is understandable that he should feel there should be redress for what he has been through since that fateful day in 2011 when he suffered the terrible injuries which he did.
“But for the reasons which I have given, he is not entitled to redress from Hickstead or WH Security Ltd as neither is liable to him.”
Mr Lear’s barrister, Colin McCaul QC, claimed the system of parking was defective because there was insufficient space for visitors to leave their bulky vehicles.
The accident probably happened after an unknown individual raised the ramp on Mr Lear’s horsebox to make more space, it was claimed.
However, in doing so, the automatic hydraulic lifting gear was disabled, resulting in the ramp crashing down without warning when Mr Lear tried to re-open it.
Following the judgement, Mr Lear said the case highlighted the dangers associated with horsebox ramps.
“My family and I are still coming to terms with what has been a devastating accident that has changed our lives forever,” he said.
“Although we are disappointed with the outcome, we hope it will raise awareness of just how dangerous these hydraulic ramps can be.”
He added he would like show organisers to consider the various types of ramp systems when undertaking risk assessments for future events.
Mr Lear is also calling for a British Standard to be introduced, which ensures all ramps have a safety locking system in place to prevent a ramp falling.
Hickstead director Edward Bunn said: “It is impossible to have anything but sympathy towards Mr Lear and his family following this tragic accident, but I am relieved that it was found that neither Hickstead nor WH Security were liable.”
Douglas Hinckley, of WH Security Ltd, added the team at WH has “nothing but sympathy” to Mr Lear and his family.
“We are, however, very glad that the court rightly sees no liability or blame towards Hickstead or WH,” he said.