A centimetre that changed a life: rider's accident the subject of a lawsuit

Credit : Chelsea Higgins (Facebook)

Tuesday 27 November - 16h15 | Ian Clayton

A centimetre that changed a life: rider's accident the subject of a lawsuit

Her lawyers say it was a centimetre that changed a life. 

 - A centimetre that changed a life: rider's accident the subject of a lawsuit

Credit : Chelsea Higgins (Facebook)

In 2010, then 16-year-old Australian eventing rider Chelsea Higgins – an aspiring Olympian who had already taken part in 3* events at the age of 15 – was competing with her mount Mon Ami Scaramouch when the pair collided with a bench-shaped obstacle and somersaulted to the ground.

“Competing at the Inter-School nationals in [New South Wales], Chelsea was moving through the course when her horse clipped the top of the second jump,” the rider’s web site recounts. “Event onlookers watched as Chelsea was crushed beneath her falling horse. Chelsea spent nine days in an induced coma. The accident caused a lacerated liver, fractured scapula, bruising and internal bleeding in the brain, a perforated lung and partial paralysis down one side of her body.”

The accident also shattered the Brisbane-based young woman’s Olympic dream and has had lasting physical impacts, the site adds: “She has been permanently affected by the accident and suffers from short-term memory loss and processing functions, speech difficulty, impaired vision, loss of movement and some feeling on her right side and continual spasms.” 

Today, the riding accident is the subject of a lawsuit between the young woman and Equestrian NSW, The Australian newspaper reports, “with her lawyers arguing that the fall was preventable. Not only had organisers failed to anchor the fence to the ground, as required, but it was 1cm higher than the maximum allowed — increasing the likelihood of injury.” Furthermore, reporter Olivia Caisley explains that the court filing claims that “there were also ‘no distinguishing features’ to demonstrate to the riders the top line or maximum height of the obstacle.”

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants thus breached their duty of care and should have known that the situation could lead to a rotational fall. And as Caisley reports, the civil action “comes as the sport is placed in the spotlight with a looming coronial inquest into the deaths of junior [Australian] riders Olivia Inglis and Caitlyn Fischer. Both died within weeks of each other in 2016.”

According to The Australian, Equestrian NSW has put forward the defence of volenti non fit injuria — meaning the plaintiff understood the risk of injury in the activity and chose to accept it. “The matter,” the newspaper explains, “is scheduled [to be heard] in the Supreme Court in February.”

No longer able to jump obstacles, Chelsea Higgins shifted her focus to dressage and in the year following the accident got back on a horse. She was subsequently approached by Equestrian Australia to participate in its Paralympic program and has gone on to represent the country as a Grade 3-level para-equestrian on the international stage, including at the World Equestrian Games. 

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