Run Yo’ Race, But Make It Safe: A Safety Guide for Organizing Marathons

by: Mickey Ingles (Special shout-out to Atty. Jess Lopez aka The TortsMaster for telling me about this one!)

Marathon organizers will do well to go out in the interwebs, go over to Lycos (or Google or whatever you young whippersnappers use as a search engine) and type in “Abrogar v. Comsos Bottling Company and Intergames, Inc. (G.R. No. 164749).” It’s a fairly recent case (decided in March 2017) that gives good points for anyone organizing sports events moving forward.

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C’mon, fellas. Follow Madonna’s advice.

Abrogar involved the tragic death of Rommel Abrogar in 1980 in a junior marathon organized by Intergames, Inc. (Yes, it took 37 years to resolve.) Rommel was struck by a jeepney as he was running the 10-km course in Quezon City. The case revolved around whether Intergames, Inc. was negligent in organizing the race and if their negligence was the proximate cause of Abrogar’s death.

In their defense, Intergames naturally blamed the jeepney driver for Abrogar’s death. The organizer also stated that they exercised due diligence in the conduct of the race by implementing safety and precautionary measures to protect the runners. Basically, they argued that they did all they could to keep things safe, and if blame was to be passed around like a pillow in an awkward teenage soiree, it should land squarely on the lap of the jeepney driver who ran over poor Rommel.

To this, the Court gave a resounding, “nah.”

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Their reaction, probably.

The Court found that Intergames was negligent and that its negligence was the proximate cause of Abrogar’s untimely death.

Negligence of Intergames

 The Court said that the safeguards adopted by Intergames were inadequate. In torts cases such as this one, adequacy is measured against the standard of diligence demanded by the persons, time, and place under consideration. Considering that the participants in the race were teenagers, a higher degree of diligence was required from the organizer. Sadly, the safeguards adopted by Intergames failed to reach this standard.

First, local authorities informed Intergames beforehand that they wouldn’t be able to close down the roads for the run. Yet, they still chose to hold the ill-fated run in the route, knowing full well that kids will be running alongside moving vehicles. The Court even stated that Intergames didn’t have to choose that particular route and were under no obligation to do so.

Second, Intergames didn’t manage the route properly. They didn’t have their own personnel to deploy. Instead, they used volunteers (which included boy scouts!) to ensure the safety of the runners. It was a volunteer crew that they failed to coordinate properly with. The Court said that it wasn’t enough that there were volunteers—they had to at least been properly instructed on their duties and tasks to ensure the safety of the young runners.

Frankly stated, they should’ve done better.

Proximate Cause of Rommel’s death

 But wait, it was the jeepney driver that hit Rommel. He should be liable, not Intergames…. Right?

Nope. The Court said that Intergames’ negligence was still the proximate cause of the Rommel’s death.

Proximate cause is “that which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any new cause, produces an event, and without which the event would not have occurred.” It’s a fancy schmancy legal term that basically means the event that really led to and caused the harm.

See the phrase “unbroken by any new cause”? That refers to what law folk call an efficient intervening cause. For it to be an efficient intervening cause though, it should not have been foreseeable to begin with.

This was also the brunt of Intergames’ argument. They were all like, “that jeepney was the efficient intervening cause! He was the new cause that killed Rommel.”

Again, the Supreme Court was, “nah.” Intergames’ negligence was the proximate cause for three reasons.

First, it set the stage for the Rommel’s death. If it just provided adequate safeguards, then this whole mess wouldn’t have happened.

Second, Intergames knew that this an accident could’ve happened. It was a foreseeable risk, which could’ve been avoided by having the race in a blocked-off road or having adequate personnel deployed around the route.

Third, the negligence of the jeepney wasn’t sufficient enough to break the sequence between Intergames’ negligence and Rommel’s death. It wasn’t an efficient intervening cause because a vehicle hitting a runner in an open road was foreseeable to begin with. It didn’t work as a defense.

Assumption of Risk?

 Intergames also raised the defense that Rommel knew the risks of running the race and therefore the doctrine of assumption of risk should apply. (We discussed this here, where we called it the “ginusto mo yan” defense.)

Again, the Supreme Court was, “nah.” The assumption of risk doesn’t apply because Rommel couldn’t have foreseen the risk of being struck by a jeepney while running a 10k race. That’s just not something that could’ve been reasonably expected in a marathon.

From here, the Court went on to discuss the waiver Rommel had signed before he ran that fatal race. The Court said that a person of his age couldn’t have consented to assume such an unforeseeable risk. (This makes sense, although I would’ve wanted the Court to rule more extensively on the effect of the waiver, since technically, you can waive future actions based on negligence.)

Takeaways

What we can gather from this case is that if you’re organizing a marathon (or any sports event for that matter), you have to exercise the proper diligence in order to ensure the safety of the participants and protect yourself from future legal problems. Remember that foreseeability is the test; so, try to imagine the worst possible thing that can happen, and run your event to prevent this from happening. You’ll want to always err in the side of caution.

Some concrete ways to do this are the following:

  • Coordinate closely with the local authorities for road closures.
  • If you can’t get a road closed for your race, ensure that you set up other means to ensure the safety of your runners (which may include looking for another venue).
  • Instruct and train your personnel and volunteers on proper safety guidelines for the runners. Sit them down for a meeting before the race even.
  • Brief the participants as well.
  • Have medical personnel at hand.
  • And of course, document everything.

To be honest, these are all common-sense guidelines. But with Abrogar, these have all been given the imprimatur by the Supreme Court and are now binding precedent. Here’s to implementing them and preventing such an untimely death from ever happening again.

Mickey Ingles is the editor-in-chief of Batas Sportiva. He sucks at long distance running, but just like Gimli, is a natural sprinter, very dangerous over short distances.

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