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Harris v Perry (1) Perry (2) Harris (3), High Court, 8 May 2008

9 June 2008
The issues

Supervision of children – bouncy castle – whether level of supervision of children at party was adequate.

The facts

The Claimant was a minor born in June 1994. The First and Second Defendants were husband and wife who organised a party for their triplet’s 10th birthday on 10th September 2005. They hired a bouncy castle and the bungee run and put it on a playing field behind their house. The playing field was open to the public. The Third Defendant, Mr Harris, was the Claimant’s father who organised, on the same day as the party, a regular football training session for youngsters on the same field. The Claimant was one of fifteen boys of a similar age attending that training session.

When the football session was over, at about 12pm, the Claimant went onto the bouncy castle and was seriously injured following a collision with another boy, who was doing a somersault using the equipment, and whose heel struck the Claimant a severe blow on the head. The football session was attended by some of the parents. Amongst them was a Mrs Clayton who had brought along her daughter, Liberty. Mrs Perry, who was watching over the bouncy castle and the bungee run, invited Liberty to play on it. With her mother’s permission she did so. At the end of the football session, Mrs Clayton’s two sons, Beau and Luke, went over to joint Liberty. The Claimant and a friend, Simon Spicer, asked the Claimant’s father if they could go onto the bouncy castle. Mr Harris said that it was not possible because it was a private party and gave them a football to kick around. They went to the bouncy castle anyway and asked Mrs Perry whether they could join in. The Claimant’s case was that Mrs Perry said ‘yes’. Mrs Perry said that she said ‘no’. In any event, they went onto the bouncy castle and shortly after the accident happened when Sammy Pring did a flip or a somersault.

The decision

On the evidence, the likelihood was that Mrs Perry had given permission. As to supervision, Mrs Perry was in attendance throughout the incident, but had to supervise two pieces of equipment, the bungee run and the bouncy castle. It was not possible to maintain a permanent look out on both sets of equipment. The level of supervision of the bouncy castle was therefore inadequate.

Was the failure to supervise causative of the accident?
There was no evidence to suggest that there had been somersaulting or unruly behaviour during the morning. Whilst the incident had not been observed by Mrs Perry, because her attention was diverted by the bungee run, it had all happened very quickly.

No-one was in a position to intervene to stop the activity as soon as Simon could be seen to try a “flip”. Whilst it would have needed a rapid response the evidence was such from one of the boys that if he had been told to be careful he would have refrained. The probabilities of such effective intervention were enhanced by the boy’s warning that he had shouted “look out I am going to do a somersault”, which was not heard or acted on. It followed that the short fall in supervision was causative of the accident.

The boy that had called out had been described as “a gentle giant”. He was an enormously tall boy who was 3 or 4 years older than the other children using the bouncy castle. The risks of a damaging collision were manifestly enhanced by mixing children of different sizes and the avoidance of such a situation was at the forefront of all recommendations for safe use. He should not have been allowed to use the bouncy castle at the same time as the younger and smaller children and this too was causative of the accident.

The case against the father had to fail. It was his position that the party appeared to be properly monitored and his perception was reasonable.

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