Uren v Corporate Leisure (UK) Ltd and Ministry of Defence [26.02.13]

Defendants liable for catastrophic claim arising out of "It's a Knockout" style games.

Implications

Mr Justice Foskett emphasised that his decision did not represent a threat to leisure and sports events of this type. He commented that provided games are fully and carefully risk assessed it will be a rare case indeed where a claim will succeed if a proportionate and sensible response is taken to any real risk identified. This may simply have been one occasion when unfortunately a full and adequate risk assessment was overlooked by the Defendants.

The courts clearly recognise the social benefit from these events and understand that some risk is always involved. Where it can be shown that risks that are foreseeable have been assessed and all proportionate steps taken to minimise the risk, a claimant will have difficulty succeeding. 

In the current case the Court concluded the risk of headfirst entry was foreseeable and proportionate steps were not taken to avoid the risk, such as banning headfirst entry or any diving into the pool at all. Stricter guidelines for the activity may have avoided a liability if the participant then chose to blatantly ignore them.

Background

For the full background to this case see our case review of the Court of Appeal's decision from March 2011

In summary:

  • The claim arose out of a "Health & Fun Day" in 2005 at RAF High Wycombe. One of the "It's a Knockout" style games was a relay race which involved getting into an inflatable pool. The pool belonged to Corporate Leisure (UK) Ltd. When it came to the Claimant's turn, tragically he hit his head on the bottom of the pool and broke his neck, leaving him tetraplegic.
  • At first instance Mr Justice Field concluded that, bearing in mind the social benefit of the game, the Defendants were not in breach of their duty of care.
  • The Court of Appeal remitted the case for retrial by a different High Court judge, with the issue "limited to the question of the degree of risk of serious injury entailed in the game as played and whether that degree of risk was acceptable in the light of the social value of the game".

Decision

In a long and detailed judgment, Foskett J found in favour of the Claimant. He held as follows:

  • Degree of risk of serious injury - the risk of serious injury arising from headfirst entry in this game ought to have been foreseen. It was more than minimal. The risk should have been considered in order to make a conscious decision whether or not to take steps to obviate or reduce it.
  • Social value of the game - an event such as this is of great social value. It provided an opportunity for fun and laughter, letting go and bonding with others.
  • Should headfirst entry have been banned? Very serious consequences could flow from someone ignoring a warning not to enter headfirst. It would have been better in this case to say that the challenge was to get over the pool wall without diving or going headfirst and that the team of anyone trying to do so would be disqualified.

Apportionment of liability as between the Defendants and the damages due to the Claimant remain outstanding.