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Hammersley-Gonsalves v Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, Court of Appeal, 13 July 2012

5 September 2012
The issues

School – sports – golf lesson – supervision – a pupil injured by golf club swung by other pupil

The facts

The claimant was 12 in October 2007 and a pupil at the Lawrence Jackson Secondary School operated by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. The claimant was taking part in a golf lesson supervised by a Mr Fowle, a physical education teacher. There were 22 pupils in the group, all of similar age. On their way to the course, where they were to play, the boys were moved indoors in single file, Mr Fowle being able to see them all. They were told to hold the club half way down the shaft and carry the ball in the other hand and not to swing the club or hit anything until told to do so. One of the boys, when on the field, took a practice shot, missed the ball and slipped. His club hit the claimant in the face. At first instance the court found for the claimant. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The decision

The judge had found that Mr Fowle could not see the actions of every pupil at every moment. Had Mr Fowle kept proper lookout or positioned himself differently, the judge found that the accident would not have happened. The finding that Mr Fowle could not and did not see what had happened was not challenged and the question was whether that finding justified the finding that Mr Fowle was negligent. The Court of Appeal had difficulty in seeing how the claim could succeed without an allegation in relation to the staffing ratio, which had not been made. It appeared obvious to the court that however observant a teacher was and however careful a lookout he was keeping, he could not be expected to see every action of each of 22 boys walking in crocodile fashion. On the judge’s finding a lack of adequate or proper supervision had not been established. The boys were 11 to 12 and had had previous golf instruction, were well behaved generally on this occasion and there was no background of bad behaviour. The action of the boy who had swung the club was wholly unexpected. Although the point had not been argued, the Court of Appeal took the view that closer supervision, by having one or more extra teachers standing close enough to observe every action was not reasonably required. In the circumstances, the system operated by the school and applied by Mr Fowle was reasonable and did not fall below the standard reasonably required.

There was an issue as to causation as well. Even if Mr Fowle’s failure to observe the swing was negligent, it would have been necessary for the claimant also to establish that the failure had caused the accident. The judge had not adequately addressed that question and there was no finding on a balance of probabilities that action by Mr Fowle would have prevented the accident.

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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