Chris Barnes wins legal case for Ex-Team GB athlete after 5-day trial

June 4, 2018

Chris Barnes from Exchange Chambers has successfully acted for ex-team GB athlete Serita Shone in her case against the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association (BBSA).

Serita took up bobsleighing in 2011, having switched from athletics where she had already competed for Great Britain. On the 26 October 2011, whilst taking part in training runs for the upcoming championships in Germany, she was involved in a traumatic accident.

On the second day of four days intensive training in Winterberg, Germany, the bobsleigh she was in hit the wooden boarding at the top of corner 13, turned over and crashed. She was thrown from the bobsleigh like a ragdoll, hitting and severely injuring her back on the ice, as she struggled to grip onto the sled to save herself.

Chris Barnes, instructed by Sinead Cartwright at Hilary Meredith Solicitors, successfully argued that had she been able to customise the sled in the way that it ought to have been done, this would have enabled her to remain in the bobsleigh.

The witnesses for the BBSA denied that it was the practice of the athletes to adapt their bobsleighs with handles, footpegs and padding to provide them with the mechanisms to brace themselves to remain in the bobsleigh.

After a five day trial, his Honour Judge Parkes QC did not accept their version of events and instead accepted the account of events given by Serita and her witnesses.

Such was the impact of this accident, Serita suffered a serious back injury, for which she had to have emergency surgery to have her spine re-aligned, and a further operation 5 days later. As well as the back injury, she also had a collapsed lung. Such was the seriousness of the injury that she was only able to be transferred to a hospital back in the UK after 3 weeks.

Commenting on the case and her long running legal battle, Serita said:

“I am thankful that this long legal battle has come to a close. The findings that the BBSA were responsible for my injuries confirm what I have believed all this time – that they didn’t put my safety first. I trusted and respected the team and coaches, especially Chris Woolley, whose incompetence, caused me serious physical damage. 

“I was a committed and talented young athlete, who was aspiring to impress the team and ultimately qualify for the Olympics. They used me for what I believe to be ‘cannon fodder’ and sent me down the ice track, unprepared and in an unsafe condition. The findings of the Judge confirm that had Chris Woolley listened to my worries and concerns about not being able to brace in the bobsleigh, I would not have been so seriously injured, and would not have had my career and aspirations so cruelly and painfully wrestled away. 

“I worked tirelessly, after my physical injuries, to get back full time into the elite squad, but the damage was already done and will last my lifetime. I also had to work hard to get into a place mentally where I accepted that I would never achieve my Olympic dreams. It wasn’t through a lack of effort from myself, but the left overs of physical injuries that could never be reversed.

“This result is not only a victory for me but also for all the young athletes out there who are tempted into the sport. They will now, hopefully, have protection because of this court finding.  Safety should always come before results, which sadly for me was not the case. I was dealt a bad hand, from an organisation that considered itself more important than the athletes it purported to coach and develop.”

Concluded Serita:

“It was an extremely hard decision and took a lot of courage from me to take this matter to Court, but I wanted to help protect new athletes coming into the sport from facing similar unnecessary injuries. At least now, I hope, athletes will slide and compete in the knowledge that their safety will be paramount. I sincerely hope that the BBSA will hold to account those responsible.”

Chris Barnes is a member of the personal injury team at Exchange Chambers.