YH v Kirklees Council, Occupiers' Liability Act 1957
The defendant local authority was not liable for injuries suffered by a primary school pupil who fell when using play equipment in the school...
The claimant, aged 4, was using a climbing frame in the playground of his school. The climbing frame was surrounded by wood chippings and located within an area separated from the playground by a low wooden frame. The chippings surrounded the equipment and extended to the frame. The claimant’s case was that he tripped as he left the play area and sought step over the frame and into the tarmac area of the playground. He alleged that the depth of the chippings was inadequate and created a trip hazard. It was further alleged that the claimant ought to have been shown how to negotiate the wooden frame and that the supervision was inadequate.
The claim was dismissed. There was nothing unsafe about the equipment which had only been installed two months earlier by a reputable contractor. The recommended depth of the chippings was 225mm but the claimant had produced no evidence in support of the allegation that the depth was insufficient. Further, teaching staff carried out daily inspections and the school caretaker swept the area each morning. The claimant and the use of the equipment were adequately supervised by the teacher in charge and there was no requirement for a specific instruction to the claimant as to how to walk over and across the wooden frame.
This was a regrettable accident but it was an accident without fault. The judge was conscious of the reality of school life and the importance of play. He commented that negotiating a difference in level was part of every day life and something that children learn. Crucially, the school was able to provide all relevant documentation in relation to the supply of the equipment. Further, the relevant members of staff (to include the Head Teacher) provided both witness statements and evidence at trial such that an appropriately robust defence of the claim was possible.
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