Cockbill v Riley [22.03.13]

Kennedys successfully defends claim brought following a party for a group of school friends; parent hosting party was not liable for catastrophic injury to 16-year-old.

Implications

The Court provided helpful guidance as to the extent of the duty of care owed by a parent of teenage children holding a party at home. When invited by the Judge to summarise that duty of care, leading counsel for the Defendant (Timothy Horlock QC) said:

"Reasonably to keep an eye on what was going on; to keep abreast of what people were doing; if matters were getting out of hand, to intervene in a reasonable manner, though not so as to spoil the party"

Leading counsel for the Claimant (Geoffrey Tattersall QC) agreed and so did Mr Justice Bean.

Background

  • The Claimant sustained a catastrophic spinal injury in an accident on 20 July 2006 when he was aged 16. He attended a party at the Defendant’s home to celebrate, along with the Defendant’s daughter, Sarah and others, the end of their GCSE examinations. One of the guests had brought a large paddling pool to the party.
  • The Defendant had bought a modest quantity of alcohol for each participant. Guests had also brought their own supply. However, there was no evidence that anyone drank alcohol to the point where they were visibly affected.
  • Before the accident six or seven boys were jumping over the edge of the pool feet first, splashing and laughing. When things seemed to be getting rather boisterous, the Defendant and Sarah told people that the food was ready.
  • The Claimant changed into swimming shorts. He went across to the pool intending to do a belly-flop. He misjudged the angle so that he struck first the water and then the bottom of the pool with his head first.

Decision

Whilst expressing the greatest possible sympathy for the Claimant, the Judge dismissed his claim:

  • The Defendant owed the Claimant a duty of care in the terms set out above.
  • Perry and Perry v Harris [2008] involved an accident on a bouncy castle at a children’s party. In that case, the Court of Appeal held that the standard of care the Defendants were required to show was that which a reasonably careful parent would show for his own children.
  • Allowing the use of a paddling pool at the party, and allowing the guests to consume modest quantities of alcohol, did not create a foreseeable risk of significant injury.
  • Even after a number of boys had jumped into the pool feet first, it was not reasonably foreseeable that someone would attempt to carry out a dive. The danger of diving into a paddling pool was obvious. In any event, by calling in the guests to have some food, the Defendant had a calming effect on the boisterous atmosphere which had built up. The Defendant was not under a duty to give an instruction not to run or jump into the pool.
  • Had he found against the Defendant, Bean J would have assessed the Claimant’s contributory negligence at two-thirds.

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