Extreme sports are more popular than ever, prompting questions about legal liability
Last year in West Virginia, 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta was running the Tough Mudder, a grueling 10-plus-mile race littered with merciless obstacles that take participants over blazing pits of fire, through dark trenches and into pools of water laced with electrical wires that deliver 10,000 volts.
When Sengupta approached the obstacle called Walk the Plank—a 12-foot-high wooden structure with a pool of chocolate-brown, muddy water below—he plunged in along with the throngs of racers. But unlike the others, he didn’t immediately come up.
Nearly 15 minutes passed before he finally surfaced in the arms of a rescue diver, foaming at the mouth, according to news reports. Sengupta died in a hospital the next day.
Now his family has retained counsel in preparation for a lawsuit against Tough Mudder, whose spokeswoman declined to comment.
Tough Mudder, calling itself “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet,” is run by a Brooklyn-based company that is one of a growing number catering to the booming industry of obstacle course racing. As sports enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies hunt for ever-more-hardcore events to test their physical limits, it’s a pastime that has gained popularity in the past five years.
But as the sport gains traction, it is also testing the limits of the law. As in most extreme sports, obstacle course racers are required to sign liability waivers. But unlike in other sports, the inherent risks aren’t always obvious; indeed, they are often intentionally magnified to titillate participants and crowds. This pushes the new sport somewhat outside the traditional framework of negligence and assumption of risk.
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