A fun-run participant in St. Lucia, Brisbane has tragically died in hospital from severe head injuries sustained when he was struck by falling tree branch. Canadian tourist Joe Kelly, 58, was participating in the Twilight Running Festival when a thunderstorm hit and a tree branch cracked and fell along Sir Fred Schonell Drive at approximately 6.30pm on the event day. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he was taken unconscious and “in a critical condition” by emergency services to Princess Alexandra Hospital where he sadly died six days later. As SBS News reports, the “super cell storm” that caused the branch to fall “lashed southeast Queensland for hours” after beginning at around 6pm. The Bureau of Meteorology recorded wind gusts of 90km/hour and heavy rain, and over 60, 000 homes were without power at the height of the storm. The storm had been forecast two days earlier, and severe weather warnings for “damaging winds, heavy rainfall and large hailstones” had been communicated from the afternoon of the day before the event. Further warnings were also issued at 5.27pm on the day of the Festival, which began at 4pm according to The Courier Mail. Runner Darrell Giles said the storm was “sudden and unexpected”, with “perfect sunshine” at 5pm. As darkness fell over the event and the storm hit, he expressed his terror at having to wait for lightning bolts and strikes to see anything after parts of the run lost power. Several other competitors were hurt from tripping during the race and have expressed their outrage at the organiser’s decision to not call off the event until hours after it began.
Comments on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have cited “poor organisation”, "a lack of communication to volunteers at the event”, and “chaos” between confused runners coming from both directions. A number of entrants also commented on social media that they did not even realise the race had been called off until they had reached the finish line.
The incident raises the issue of responsibilities of event organisers in hosting running events. While an event organiser has a duty of care for the safety of participants in a running event so too does the land owners upon which the event is being held. Both event organisers and venue owners and/or managers have positive due diligence obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act (Qld) 2011 to ensure the safety of members of the public affected by their activities so far as is reasonably practicable. As event managers, race organisers owe participants a duty of care to manage foreseeable risks. It is also industry practice for a venue hosting an event to ensure that event organisers hosting events on their land, have sufficient risk and emergency management planning documentation in place and have given due consideration to risks and hazards. Individual participants are required to follow all reasonable instructions given by the event organiser and to not place themselves in unreasonable danger. It is unclear from media reports on the incident above as to how well people were informed of the pending dangers from bad weather; and if adverse weather was contained in the event’s emergency management plan.
As comments on the official Twilight Facebook page suggest, time will tell if Twilight will be found liable in negligence for the tragic death.