Hammersley-Gonsalves v Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council [13.07.12]

A local authority was not liable for injury sustained by a pupil when he was hit by a golf club during a lesson; adequate supervision provided; the teacher could not have been expected to see every action of a group of pupils at all times.

Comment

This case is a reassuring decision for local authorities and activity providers across England and Wales.

Refreshingly the Court of Appeal was not swayed by the potentially emotive concerns of a 12 year old boy being hit in the face with a golf club. Rather, it placed great weight on the particular circumstances (age of pupils, previous similar instances, pupils behaviour generally etc) and the steps taken by the school to ensure the activity was carried out in a safe manner. The causation point raised by Lord Justice Rimer was far more straightforward: put simply, there was no evidence adduced that any further action by the supervising teacher would have prevented the accident.

I have discussed the case with a number of local authority clients and comfort is taken from the Court’s common sense application of duty, breach and causation to the specific circumstances surrounding the incident. The judgment is a useful reminder to defendants to consider two things:

  1. What further steps could reasonably have been taken?
  2. What difference (if any) such steps would have made to positively preventing the accident?

Background

During a school golf lesson, the 12 year old Claimant suffered a facial injury when a golf club was swung by another pupil. The group of 22 male pupils – all aged between 11 and 12 years - were being supervised by one teacher, Mr Fowle.

The court at first instance found that Mr Fowle did not adequately supervise the pupils as he could not and did not see what his pupils were doing at the time.

The Defendant appealed.

Decision

With Lord Justice Pill delivering the leading judgment, the appeal was upheld. The Court of Appeal held that the Defendant’s system of supervision was adequate in the circumstances. It found that, although the teacher could not see all the actions of all pupils at all times, this did not amount to negligent supervision. These pupils had undertaken previous golf lessons over the preceding six weeks and were well behaved generally, including on this occasion. The action of the pupil who swung his golf club, which hit the Claimant, was considered spontaneous and wholly unexpected.

In relation to causation, the Court held that, on the balance of probabilities, no action by Mr Fowle would have prevented the accident. Further, the Court added a finding regarding the staffing ratio; finding that closer supervision of the group by having extra teachers was not reasonably required in the circumstances.