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Chittock v Woodbridge School

2 July 2002
The issues

School – skiing holiday – whether school in breach of duty of care.

The facts

A 17 year old Sixth Former went on a school ski holiday trip and skied off piste. The trip had been organised for younger pupils and the Claimant was allowed to join as a favour, together with two others of his age. It was agreed with the parents of the boys that whilst they would be under the overall control of the teacher in charge, Mr Jackson, they would be permitted to ski unsupervised on all the slopes. The parents signed a declaration which read “we are happy that our son%u2026 should be allowed to ski%u2026 whilst unsupervised by staff during the junior ski trip”. There were a number of incidents with the boys, the first relating to an occasion when Mr Jackson found them smoking in their bedroom with some of the junior girls, and he punished them by taking away their ski passes for 2 hours on the next day.

The second incident was Mr Jackson seeing the 3 boys skiing off piste. He warned them that it was dangerous and that they should not do it again. On the third occasion, they were again seen skiing off piste. He reprimanded them severely and threatened to confiscate their passes. They assured him that they would not do it again. He accepted their assurance. On he following day, the Claimant was on a red piste, well within his capabilities when he accidentally lost control on a bend and fell down a slope, fracturing his spine. The High Court Judge found the school liable in negligence for the serious injuries the Claimant suffered, subject to a 50% apportionment.

The School appealed.

The decision

1. The Teacher owed a duty to the Claimant to show the same care as would have been exercised by a reasonably careful parent held to have experience of skiing and of running school ski trips. The Teacher had to take account of the Claimant’s known level of competence and the conditions at the resort, in the context of the Teacher’s responsibility for the school group as a whole.

2. The duty was not to ensure the Claimant’s safety from skiing mishaps which were the result of his own mis-judgment or inadvertence.

3. Where there were a number of different courses of action which the Teacher might take in these circumstances, he would not be negligent if he chose one which, using the Bolam test, would be within a reasonable range of options for a reasonable Teacher exercising that duty of care in the circumstances.

4. The duty of care should be considered in the context of available appropriate guidance for skiing trips.

5. The Judge’s finding that the Teacher’s decision was not within the range of reasonable responses, was wrong in that it “exceeded the generous ambit within which a reasonable disagreement is possible”.

6. It was difficult to separate the issues of negligence and causation, on the basis that it was arguable that the Claimant’s carelessness which gave rise to the accident was part of a continuum of his earlier irresponsibility and poor behaviour, which the Teacher should have taken account of. However, as a matter of common sense and on a balance of probabilities, it could not reasonably be thought that even if Mr Jackson was negligent in failing to remove the ski pass, that that failure caused the Claimant to have an accident. The Judge at first instance, had been wrong to make “the great leap that he did” from a finding of general irresponsibility to a finding that for want of a stricter sanction, the irresponsibility caused the accident the following day.

7. Costs – the Judge at first instance, had made an Order that the Claimant receive only two thirds of his costs. The Claimant had appealed on this point, although strictly speaking no finding was necessary from the Court of Appeal, having dismissed the Claimant’s case, Lord Justice Auld indicated that the Judge had rightly considered all the matters that he should have done under Civil Procedure Rules Part 44.3 and that the finding was within the reasonable ambit of his discretion. Had the Claimant succeeded, the Court of Appeal would not in any event have interfered with the finding as to costs.

8. Appeal allowed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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