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Simonds v Isle of Wight Council, High Court, 23 September 2003

1 October 2003
The issues

Playing fields – children- supervision – swings.

The facts

The Claimant was a 5-year-old boy having a picnic with his mother during a lunchtime break in his school sports day. The sports day was held on playing fields in a village near to the small primary school he attended. After the events had restarted, his mother decided to go shopping and told the Claimant to go back to the teachers. As she left the field, she saw him halfway between where they had had their picnic and where the events were taking place. Moments later she heard a cry and rushed back to find the Claimant lying by some swings. The Claimant had not gone back to his teachers, but instead had gone to play on his own on the swings, some 50 metres away from where the games were taking place. He had jumped off and broken his arm. On a preliminary visit to the playing fields the head teacher had inspected the swings and found them to be in good condition. However she identified swings as a “potential hazard” and resolved that they should be out of bounds during sports day. That the swings were to be out of bounds was known by all the staff and was communicated informally to the parents on sports day. In his Particulars of Claim the Claimant alleged that the accident had been caused by inadequate supervision. The County Court Judge rejected this case, holding that no amount of supervision would have prevented the Claimant from jumping from the swing. However the Judge found the Defendant liable on the basis that, having identified the swings as a “potential hazard”, it ought to have taken further steps to neutralise the hazard, by immobilising the swings, by restricting access to them or by warning the parents of the hazard. The Defendant appealed to the High Court Judge.

The decision

1.The swings were not defective in themselves. The school had a reasonable plan for dealing with them as a potential hazard to small children.

2.It was not reasonable to impose a legal duty on a school to immobilise swings, anymore than it would be to rope off a tree on the playing field. Playing fields could not be made free of all hazard.

3.It was “slightly unreal” to suggest that the school owed a legal duty to warn the Claimant’s mother of the hazards of unsupervised play on swings.

4.In any event, the Claimant’s mother had not delivered the child back into the care of the school before the accident occurred.

5.There was no breach of any duty by the school.

Appeal allowed.

Comments

For further information, please contact David Sanderson, Counsel for the Isle of Wight at sanderson@12kbw.co.uk

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