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C (a minor) v Somerset County Council, 21 October 2005

26 October 2005
The issues

Schools – Physical Education – Duty To Supervise – Duty To Train – Whether Defendant Liable for Claimant’s Unauthorised Act

The facts

On the 20th January 2003 the Claimant (who was 14years old and in year 10 at the time of the accident) was set to take part in a physical education lesson at his school in Bridgwater. The main lesson of the day was basketball.

The Claimant’s evidence was that rather than playing basketball he wanted to use the school’s multi-gym, to help him recover from a recent hip operation. He said he agreed this with his teacher. On getting changed the Claimant said he had realised he had left his trainers at home, but that his teacher had expressly said it was okay to use the multi-gym to exercise his lower body anyway. The Defendant’s case was that as the Claimant had forgotten his trainers he was told by the PE teacher to use the multi-gym, but to concentrate only on upper body exercises. It was conceded that there had been no express prohibition regarding the exercise bike, but the Defendant argued that this was also excluded by the instruction to concentrate only on upper body exercises.

The Claimant said that he had used the gym equipment for approximately 50 minutes and opted to spend the last ten minutes of the lesson on an exercise bike. His recollection was that at no stage did the PE teacher check on him, as he was distracted by the basketball lesson. The teacher conceded that to not have checked on the pupils in the gym would have been negligent, however he had checked on them a number of times during the period.

The Claimant’s case was that he had never been trained in using the gym equipment and specifically the exercise bike, although he could not say what training he needed, having used the bike before without difficulty and having ridden a bike since 5 years of age. The Defendant could adduce no evidence to say that the Claimant had been trained, although it was the school’s policy to “induct” pupils before allowing them to use the equipment.

The Claimant sustained injury whilst dismounting from the exercise bike when his sock slipped from the still moving pedal and came into contact with the unguarded chain. The Claimant argued that the bike itself was unsafe due to the lack of a guard.

The decision

The Judge had no hesitation in finding that he preferred the evidence of the Defendant’s witness. He accepted that the Claimant had been told to use the gym because he had no trainers with him and had been told to concentrate on upper body exercises. The Judge further accepted the evidence of the teacher that he had intermittently checked on the pupils in the gym and that at no time had he seen the Claimant on the exercise bike.

In the absence of any evidence from the Defendant to refute to suggestion the Judge accepted the Claimant’s evidence that he had not been trained in the use of the exercise bike. However, the question was whether that made any difference. The Claimant had used the machine previously and had been riding bicycles since he was 4 or 5 years old. He knew how they worked and knew that it was possible to get a foot entangled in the chain mechanism. He did not need to be trained as to what were the hazards of riding a bike in stockinged feet.

Further, it was not foreseeable that a 14 year old child who had been told to concentrate upper body exercises only would use a piece of equipment that was clearly not appropriate for the activity in question or an upper body exercise. Additionally, the exercise bike was not unsafe due to the lack of a guard – the majority of bikes did not have a guard over the chain which would have prevented this injury, but that did not render them unsafe for usual use.

Claim dismissed.

Comments

For further information please contact Daniel Turner danielturner@veitchpenny.co.uk) or Brent McDonald (bmd@2templegardens.co.uk)

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