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Gouth v Upshire Primary School, Queens Bench Division

19 February 2001
The issues

Accident to Child at School – Contributory Negligence – Standard of Discipline

The facts

The Claimant fell from a banister 12 feet and sustained serious head injuries. A class was in progress at the time of the accident and the Claimant and a number of other children were visiting the toilet.

The stairway and banister had been there since the school was built in 1939 and confirmed to applicable building regulations. There had been no reported similar incidents in the history of the school. Discipline was generally of a high order at the school and the Claimant was ordinarily a well-behaved child aware of ordinary dangers. Signs were present on or near the stairway illustrating the danger of running and the rule to keep to the right.

The decision

The test was whether or not the school could reasonably have foreseen that a pupil might attempt to slide down this banister and if foreseeable, whether the risk that a pupil might do so was such as to require preventative measures to be aimed at that risk. The school could not be held to be negligent however in failing to take steps against a possibility which although foreseeable was considered no more likely than many other risks which might befall children at school. In terms of contributory negligence, any contribution to the responsibility to the accident will be less for an 8-year-old child than for an adult. However, if the school had been found in breach of duty “a substantial percentage of contributory negligence would have been findable even against an 8 year old simply because clearly he knew there was serious danger involved in what he was doing”.

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