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Harris v Perry (1) Perry (2) Harris (3), Court of Appeal, 31 July 2008

20 August 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 Judge found against Mr and Mrs Perry on the basis of inadequate supervision that was causative of the accident. He dismissed the case against the father.

The First and Second Defendants appealed.

The decision

Children play by themselves or with other children in a wide variety of circumstances. There was an absence of case law dealing with the duty of care owed by parents to their own or other children, when they were playing together. It was impossible to avoid all risk that, when playing together, children might injure themselves or each other. It was impractical for parents to keep children under constant surveillance or even supervision and it would not be in the public interest for the law to impose a duty upon them to do so.

There were however some activities which involved an unacceptable risk to children, unless they were subject to supervision or even constant surveillance and in those cases adults who expose children to such activities were likely to be held responsible for ensuring they were subject to such supervision or surveillance as they ought to know was necessary to restrict the risk to an acceptable level.

In the context of this case, the issue as to duty was what positive steps would a reasonable parent take for the safety of a child of the Claimant’s age playing on a bouncy castle. The answer to this question had to depend critically on the risks that the reasonable parent ought to foresee would be involved in use of the castle. In answering that question the Judge could and should have had regard to any relevant information in the hire agreement.

The injuries suffered by the Claimant were of horrifying severity. The hire agreement recommended that the equipment be supervised at all times and that boisterous behaviour be stopped. It did not specify the consequences of boisterous behaviour. A reasonable parent would foresee that children indulging in boisterous behaviour on a bouncy castle would be likely, sooner or later, to collide with each other and cause some child physical injury. The Court did not consider that it was reasonably foreseeable that such injury would be likely to be serious, let alone as severe as the injuries sustained by the Claimant. Moreover, there was no evidence before the Judge or before the Court of Appeal of the extent of the risk of injury actually posed by bouncy castles. The standard of care called on therefore, was that appropriate to protect children against a foreseeable risk of physical harm which fell short of serious injury.

On this basis there was no justification for holding that that duty required that children be under constant surveillance. The Judge had imposed an unreasonably high standard of care in holding that it required uninterrupted supervision.

Nor was the Court convinced that in the absence of any express warning, that a reasonably careful parent would have concluded that children should not summersault on the bouncy castle. This was however an academic question in the light of the Court’s conclusion that the Defendant was not obliged to keep those playing on the bouncy castle under constant surveillance.

The Court did not accept, even given that the larger the colliding child the greater the risk of injury, that that should automatically lead a careful parent to prevent children of different sizes using the castle together. The child Sam was known to the Defendant as a responsible and gentle child, albeit very large for his age. Nothing had occurred during the course of the morning to give rise to apprehension about Sam playing on the bouncy castle with smaller children.

Again, the Judge had applied too high a standard of care when concluding that the Defendant was in breach of duty in allowing Sam to play on the bouncy castle with children who were smaller in stature.

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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