Court success: ex-student’s claim against college dismissed

  • A college faced a claim from a former student who alleged he was injured when a window broke as he leant on it
  • He argued safety glass should have been used – a claim rejected by the judge
  • The judge agreed the college had no reason to believe the glass was not structurally sound and dismissed the claim

X v Bradford College

Background

The claimant sought damages of up to £5,000 following an accident at the defendant’s college, which occurred when he was a 15-year-old student there. The claimant (who was 18 at the date of trial) alleged he was leaning on a window when it broke, causing his arm to go through the glass and resulting in a laceration to his wrist.

The claimant alleged the window was cracked before the accident, a claim categorically denied by the defendant. The defendant suspected the claimant had punched the glass causing it to break.

The law

A claim was brought under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 and/or in negligence.

Legal arguments

It was argued on behalf of the defendant that the window, being above 800mm from ground level, was not required to be made of safety glass (as per British Standard 6262) and that the defendant’s caretaker assessed the premises including windows each day that the college was open, in order to ensure it was safe and secure.

Decision

The judge concluded the glass was not required to be safety glass. On the evidence presented, the court could not be satisfied that the glass was cracked beforehand, nor could it be satisfied that the claimant had punched the glass. It was therefore found, on the balance of probabilities, that the claimant had leant on the glass with whatever pressure was required to break it.

However, in the absence of any reason to believe the glass was not structurally sound, there was no basis for concluding there was a breach of duty by the defendant. The claim was dismissed, but with no finding of fundamental dishonesty.

Commentary

This is an excellent outcome for educational institutions and other establishments that are open to the public, where there is a suggestion that safety glass is required.

It is also a good example of where a daily inspection system (even when undocumented by inspection checklists) can be found to be reasonable enough to discharge the duty under the Occupiers’ Liability Act.

This claim was handled by Imran Khan in Zurich Leeds Casualty Claims, supported by Lisa Wood of Weightmans LLP. Alex Poole of Deans Court Chambers provided representation at Court.