Welcome decision for schools as claim dismissed in PE accident case

A physical education activity during which the claimant pupil was injured was reasonably safe and adequately supervised.

DS v Halton Borough Council – Liverpool County Court, Recorder Parrington (5/7/18)

Summary

A physical education activity during which the claimant pupil was injured was reasonably safe and adequately supervised.

Facts

On 4 February 2016 the claimant, aged 7, was participating in a PE lesson at school with 14 classmates. The pupils were playing a game of back-to-back tag which involved each pupil linking arms with a partner and moving together. Unfortunately, the claimant fell during the course of the game and suffered injuries to his mouth and teeth. The claimant alleged that the activity was inherently dangerous because the children’s arms were restrained and that there was inadequate supervision of the lesson. The defendant denied liability on the basis that the game was an established activity that had been used at the school for a number of years without incident. The pupils enjoyed it and it was an effective group activity that was appropriately planned and was supervised by two qualified teachers.

Judgment

The claim was dismissed. The judge was satisfied that generic risk assessment for PE was suitable and covered the specific lesson. Whilst the teachers had not seen the claimant fall this did not mean the lesson was not adequately supervised. The claimant and his classmates were provided with adequate instructions and knew only to link arms loosely and not to run. The judge concluded that the risk presented by the game was not materially greater than the risk involved in ordinary play in the school playground.

Comment

This is a welcome decision for schools. A finding of liability would have potentially impacted on the continuation of an effective and enjoyable PE lesson thereby deterring a desirable activity contrary to section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006. In the recent High Court case of Pook v Rossall School [2018] QBD, the court confirmed that absent an obvious risk that no reasonable school or teacher should run, “the court should be slow to condemn a teacher as negligent and to substitute its own judgement for that of the teacher where the teacher can be expected to have knowledge of the school, the environment and the particular children in her charge" Courts ought to be slow to impose an unreasonable burden on schools and due regard should be had for a teacher’s professional judgement.

Weightmans LLP acted for Halton BC in this case.

For further information about Weightmans LLP or to discuss any of the issues in this update, please contact Peter Wake, Partner on 0151 242 6866 (peter.wake@weightmans.com) or Rachael Fawcett, Solicitor on 0151 243 3317 (rachael.fawcett@weightmans.com).

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