Last week saw the tragic death of Evha Jannath, an 11-year-old schoolgirl who was killed in a fall from a water ride at the Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire. The incident is under investigation and will need to be considered very carefully. Although it is not yet clear what caused her to fall from the Splash Canyon ride, it is known that she was taking part in a school trip when the accident occurred. A statement released by Evha's family said that their ‘world was torn apart’ following her death.
There will undoubtedly be hundreds of thousands of parents across the country now experiencing an even greater level of concern for their own children as the end of the school year approaches, when school trips become more frequent. It is important that all parents understand the duty of care that schools and/or local authorities have towards their students.
Claims against schools by pupils can arise in a number of ways; pupils may be injured as a result of the condition of the school premises, the actions of other children, teachers or school employees or they may come to harm outside school premises. This is not an exhaustive list, but an example of common scenarios. Claims can be brought against schools for breach of statutory duty and/or negligence. There is considerable overlap but generally claims can be divided into two categories. These are occupancy duties, which relate to the condition of school premises, and activity duties, which concern incidents on school premises or outside school premises while performing school activities such as a school trip or taking part in sport.
Claims involving activity duties will often question the level of supervision provided. The ordinary test for negligence will apply which means considering whether:
- a duty of care was owed in that situation
- there was a breach of this duty
- whether the breach caused the damage which occurred.
The teacher/pupil relationship is one which gives rise to a positive duty to prevent harm. The level of supervision required by teachers and others will depend on the age and character of those in their care, and the knowledge acquired by teachers of the pupils' conduct. The particular type of activity will also be relevant to the level of supervision. The duty does not require schools to avoid all risk of injury as harm must be reasonably foreseeable.
Charlene McAuliffe, an associate in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “The events that unfolded at Drayton Manor Theme Park are truly devastating. It will be a tremendously difficult time for all those concerned and our thoughts are very much with the family and friends of this young girl. Unfortunately, we have seen parents bringing claims for injury against schools more frequently in recent years. In this case, the Health and Safety Executive is undertaking its investigation alongside the police to determine how the incident occurred. We do know that height restrictions are imposed on the Splash Canyon ride and in some cases children are required to be accompanied by an adult, so an important part of the investigation will involve looking at these aspects and considering the supervision provided by the school at the time.
"Another significant area of focus will be any potential failings of the theme park, such as failing to operate the ride safely or potentially a defect in the ride itself. In these scenarios, claims could be pursued against a theme park for negligence under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. Our team acted for victims of the terrible ‘Smiler’ incident at Alton Towers in 2015 and, while we acknowledge that accidents of this type are rare, when they do occur, they can be very traumatic and result in serious injury. The public places an immense amount of trust in the operators of these theme parks and, indeed with school staff, so it is important that, where failings have occurred, appropriate action is taken to ensure that such devastating incidents do not happen again."