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Earphones and the Law - Time to Face the Music

Earphone Wearing Jogger Sues in Irish High Court and Loses Case

Friday February 21st 2020

curragh of kildare aHorse Training on Curragh

Last Friday, Mary Carolan, a Higher Court journalist, reported in an article in last Saturday's Irish Times, that a jogger, as the court called him, had lost a High Court case for damages against The Curragh Racecourse and Curragh Racecourse Hospitality Ltd, along with two horse trainer sisters, following a collision with one, or possibly two, horses on the Curragh. 

 

 headphones image shutterstock

 

Implications of Judgement

The judgement has implications for anyone wearing earphones/headphones, whether walking, jogging or running. A Precedent has now been set, and other similar cases are likely to cite this case.

 

Extract from Mary Carolan's Case Report

Mr. Justice David Keane said that the plaintiff was "entitled to “every sympathy” for his injuries and the pain he had endured, the court could find no responsibility, and hence, no liability, on the part" of the defendants.

Justice Keane concluded that the proximate cause of the accident, was the plaintiff’s failure “to keep a proper lookout”, together with the use of earphones to listen to music, impeding “if not eliminating” his ability to hear the approach of the racehorses or shouted warnings about their approach.

He said that it was “more than likely” that had the plaintiff been taking reasonable care, either by keeping a proper lookout, or ensuring he could hear the sound of the approaching horses, or the shouted warnings, “he could have avoided the accident by the simple and straightforward expedient of stopping or slowing down”.

While using earphones as a pedestrian or jogger in a public place is not in itself negligent, Justice Keane was satisfied that it did contribute to this accident, as did the plaintiff’s failure to keep a proper lookout.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Keane found the “unusual, if not unprecedented” accident occurred between 120m and 139m from the corner of the palisade fence and that, for several seconds before it, the jockeys of three approaching horses to Mr Turner’s left were shouting warnings at him. Tracey Collins, to his left, was running towards him, waving her arms and shouting a warning.

He could not accept that defendants could and should have averted the accident by erecting a temporary sign or signs when the gallops was in use warning “Look Left For Galloping Horses” or words to that effect.

He noted that the plaintiff had said he did not look to his right or left when jogging on The Curragh plain which meant, if there was a sign, he would not have seen it.

The judge said the dangers inherent in crossing wide open gallops are “directly comparable” to those of visiting precipitous cliffs or the banks of rivers and streams.

 

Commentary

As said in the introduction, this case will be used as a legal precedent. It clearly puts the primary responsibility for his/her own safety back on the headphone wearer, as it was “more than likely” that had the plaintiff been taking reasonable care, either by keeping a proper lookout, or ensuring he could hear the sound"

 

A corollary of this judgement is that a headphone wearer is more likely to be found to be negligent themselves, for the same reasons cited by Justice Keane: it was “more than likely” that had the plaintiff been taking reasonable care, either by keeping a proper lookout, or ensuring he could hear the sound.  

You have been warned time and again. Now the High Court has made a far reaching ruling for headphone wearers: You are "more than likely" not taking reasonable care, either by keeping a proper lookout, or ensuring they can hear the sound. 
 

No Headphones Rules

noheadphones bhaa

 

No Headphones is a requirement of most registered races.

Insurance Requirement

The wearing of headphones may have insurance implications for race organisers, and, particularly for those headphone wearers, who run an increased risk of injury to themselves, or cause injury to other race participants.

Inability to hear Race Instructions and/or Warnings

Headphone wearers cannot clearly hear instructions from race organisers, stewards and fellow runners, about hazards, obstructions and incidents on the course

In the interest of safety, both your own and others, please do not wear headphones during a race

 

New York Magazine - Intelligencer Magazine

Honestly, how frequently are runners who wear earphones outside showing up in ERs? It seems so dangerous. I’ve read the old “just make sure you can still hear outside noises” advice, regarding getting earphones or headphones you can wear while running in an urban area, but that sounds like well-intended hooey. What are doctors seeing?

There’s no question about it: It’s a dangerous practice and doctors have definitely seen an increase in the number of runners who had accidents while wearing headphones, says Dr. William N. Levine, of  New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center’s orthopedic department.

A recent study found that injuries among pedestrians wearing headphones tripled between 2004 and 2011, with most accidents occurring in urban areas. This rise correlates with what I’ve seen in patients — I’ve personally noticed a definite increase over the last five years. People in emergency medicine have mentioned that they’ve noticed it, too. Running or walking with headphones is an obvious health risk that’s well known among doctors, just like using cell phones in cars.

As an orthopedic surgeon, I’ve seen many runners who have had their lives completely altered because they were running while wearing headphones. When the accidents aren’t fatal, there can be devastating injuries that leave permanent functional limitations. These horrific injuries can really change their lives.

Given the known danger, I know some politicians are trying to ban headphone use among pedestrians in New York. I’m not sure how you’d really enforce that law, but speaking strictly as a doctor, I can see the logic in trying to minimize this risk in any way possible. In New York City, stepping off the curb can be dangerous in ideal circumstances. When you add something that both distracts you and blunts one of your senses, it’s obviously going to increase that danger significantly.

Most people intuitively know this, so there’s a degree of self-blame among patients. Runners aren’t always forthcoming about the circumstances of an accident; it’s only upon further investigation that you find out they were wearing headphones. This makes it harder to get accurate data on how many accidents involve pedestrians wearing headphones — but again, from the point of view of the medical community, there’s no question that it’s causing far too many of them.

My advice? Don’t do it. I don’t do it. My wife’s a runner, and she doesn’t run outside with headphones. Don’t bike with headphones, either — we see a lot of injuries from that, too. If you really need music to help you get an endorphin high, or you want to listen to an audiobook or podcast while you run, do it on a treadmill. I’d save headphones for indoor workouts.

If you won’t do that, at least consider keeping one ear free while you run. Look at it this way: If you’re doing something that’s arguably for your health, but also significantly increasing your risk of getting killed or seriously injured, at some point your brain’s risk-benefit-analysis alarm should go off and tell you “this isn’t a good idea.” If you’re running with headphones in a crowded urban area with a lot of cross-traffic, like New York, that alarm should be sounding.

 

 

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