Tough Mudder Settles Wrongful-Death Complaint

The suit, filed after 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta drowned at the 2013 Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic event, had major implications for the obstacle-course-racing industry

Jun 30, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
Tough Mudder Settles Wrongful-Death Complaint

The muddy Walk the Plank water obstacle was phased out in early 2015.    Photo: J. Scott Park/Associated Press

A lawsuit over the 2013 death of a Tough Mudder participant has been settled before reaching a jury, the Herald-Mail Media reports. The wrongful-death suit was filed against the company a year after 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta drowned at the Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic event on March 20, 2013 in West Virginia and five months after out-of-court mediation failed to produce a settlement. 

The wrongful-death complaint charged Tough Mudder and Airsquid Ventures, whose subsidiary was responsible for aquatic safety at the event, among others, with gross negligence for their conduct at the "Walk the Plank" water obstacle. The complaint alleges that overcrowding made it impossible for rescue and safety personnel to monitor the pool and that Tough Mudder removed safety features to speed up crowd flow:

Prior to the Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic event on April 20, Tough Mudder had been the subject of complaints on social media concerning long waiting times at many of its obstacles... In response to complaints of long wait times at Walk-the-Plank, Tough Mudder took steps to decrease wait times and increase the flow of participants through the Obstacle... Its desire to speed participants through Walk-the-Plank caused Tough Mudder to abandon (or fail to adopt in the first place) critical safety measures.

Outside’s 2013 investigation sheds some insight into what happened that day. About a half-hour into the event, Avishek and his five teammates approached the Walk the Plank obstacle:

The teammates ran into their second traffic jam of the day: a human bottleneck at a water obstacle called Walk the Plank. The group chatted as they shuffled along with about a hundred other participants toward a near vertical wall of two-by-sixes that rose to a platform 15 feet above a man-made pool of muddy water that was roughly 40 feet wide and 15 feet deep. When they reached the top, they would have to leap in and swim to the other side.

Avishek didn't resurface after his plunge: 

He was underwater and sinking to the bottom, passing out at some point, for reasons that are still unknown. When he was next seen on the surface, at least eight and a half minutes after he'd jumped, he would be unconscious and in the arms of a rescue diver.

A video from the event shows the chaos that ensued after Avishek's teammates realized he hadn’t resurfaced, and the race’s rescue diver scrambling to find him.

After spending an estimated 42 minutes without a pulse, Avishek's heart was restarted. By this time, he had suffered brain death due to oxygen deprivation. He died at a local hospital the next day. 

This suit had major implications for the obstacle course racing industry, which was eager to know, in particular, if liability waivers—what Tough Mudder calls its "Death Waiver"—would hold up in court. Senguptas’ lawyers contend that such waivers are unenforceable because they are "one-sided and overly harsh," among other claims. Most OCR events, outfitters, and races require participants to sign similar liability forms.

The Herald-Mail reports that the specifics of the settlement, including the amount of money the Senguptas would receive from the defendants, were sealed by the court. Tough Mudder declined to speak about the settlement with Outside. When we first contacted the company about Avishek's death in 2013, chief operating officer Don Baxter said "We did everything we could," adding that "it's impossible to remove risk entirely from these events."

Avishek was the first death at a Tough Mudder since the event began in 2010, though he was not the first to die at an obstacle race. The Baltimore Sun reports that two men died after a 2011 Warrior Dash event in the Kansas City area and another drowned at a 2012 Original Mud Run in Texas.

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