Court Success: Common sense approach for Academies & Insurers

  • Damages of £28,000 sought following an accident that occurred during a physical education lesson
  • Football kicked towards the Claimant left her with scarring to her wrist and ongoing symptoms, causing restrictions with heavy lifting
  • Claimant failed to prove that the Defendant was negligent when allowing her to partake in the mixed gender football game

The Claimant, who was a student at the Defendant’s Academy, sought damages of £28,000 following an accident that occurred during a physical education lesson. The Claimant was partaking in a mixed gender football game and assigned herself the position of goal. The game was informal in nature and the students chose their own positions. Whilst in the goal position, a male student kicked the football towards the Claimant in order to score a goal and in doing so, struck and fractured the Claimant’s wrist. The Claimant has been left with scarring to her wrist and ongoing symptoms, causing restrictions with heavy lifting.

The law

The claim was brought under common law. In particular it was claimed that the Defendant was liable for the Claimant’s injures by failing to take in to account the submission  that 16 year old males were stronger than the female students of a similar age. The Claimant also claimed the Defendant was negligent in not adequately supervising the students and in allowing the Claimant to partake in a mixed gender football game.

Legal arguments

The Claimant’s legal case focused on the Football Association Guidelines and the provision therein at that time that mixed sex football games should not take place beyond 14 years of age. The Claimant also alleged that personal protective equipment, namely footballer’s gloves, should have been provided to the Claimant under these guidelines. The use of personal protective equipment was also listed within the Defendant’s risk assessments when considering invasion games.

Furthermore the Claimant raised issue with the Defendant’s staff’s supervision on the day of the Claimant’s accident, alleging that the teacher with care and control of the class was not adequately supervising the students and should have anticipated the accident occurring by risk assessing the game.

It was the Defendant’s case that adequate levels of supervision were maintained throughout the lesson and there was no reason to fear for the Claimant’s safety at any point prior to her accident. Witness evidence was obtained from the Head of Physical Education and the teacher with care and control of the lesson on the day of the Claimant’s accident. The policies and procedures in place in respect of physical education lessons were reviewed within witness evidence and the Defendant argued that the use of goalkeeper’s gloves would not have prevented the Claimant’s accident as the Claimant alleged. Furthermore the Defendant denied any breach of the Football Association guidelines as these guidelines only apply to competitive matches and not physical education lessons.

The Defendant maintained within witness evidence that all pre lesson risk assessments and procedures were adhered to prior to the lesson and throughout.

Decision

Deputy District Judge Carr heard the evidence of both parties and found that the Defendant had not been negligent. The Judge ruled that the Football Association guidelines applied to competitive games only, and not physical education lessons.

The Claimant was in year 11 at the time of her accident on 1 May 2014. The Judge found that although the guidelines at the time of the Claimant’s accident only permitted for up to year 10 students to play in mixed gender football matches, the Association must have decided that mixed gender football matches would be appropriate for year 11 students prior to May 2014, given subsequent revisions to the FA guidelines commencing in August 2014 extending mixed football to U16’s. Ultimately the decision for the Defendant to allow mixed gender football games within year 11 physical education lessons would however not fall under the remit of competitive matches, confirming the guidelines would not apply.

The Judge was satisfied that no criticism could fairly be made of the defendant’s witness, being the teacher who supervised the match. He had appropriately supervised the game.  There had been nothing to suggest that the Claimant was at any risk of injury until she was injured and the behaviour of the pupils during the game had been good. The Judge did not accept that there was a duty to warn the male students to be more careful or a duty to provide safety equipment.  In any event, the Judge did not accept that either would have made any difference on the facts of the case.
The Judge therefore found that the Claimant had failed to prove that the Defendant was negligent when allowing her to partake in the mixed gender football game, and without providing goalkeepers gloves whilst in the position of goal.

Commentary

This is an excellent outcome for the Defendant, and indeed Academies and their insurers generally.  The issue of gender in this case was the Claimant’s paramount legal argument which was thankfully dismissed by the Judge. Unfortunately accidents can occur within physical education lessons, and as this case shows, the courts will be hesitant in imposing liability on such academic institutions in respect of such socially beneficial activities where there is no clear evidence of negligence, in respect of the organisation and supervision of the activity or otherwise. That said, educational establishments do not have immunity and so must continue to risk assess, and train staff to identify and act on any heightened or unusual risks which appear during the course of planning and running such activities.

The claim was handled by Helen Ewen  in our Leeds Casualty Claims Team. Our panel solicitors, Weightmans LLP, represented Zurich and the Policyholder in Court