Mr Brookes was helping a relative, Mr Burton, to clear foliage in his garden. While they were working, Burton asked Brookes to stand on a ladder and hold a long 'springy' branch while he cut it with his chainsaw. The branch sprang away from the chainsaw causing Brookes to fall backwards into an empty swimming pool next to the tree. He was severely injured in the accident and brought proceedings against Burton alleging negligence.

Burton argued that the duty of care he owed to Brookes did not go beyond the duty owed to any lawful entrant to his property, being a duty to take reasonable care to avoid a foreseeable risk of injury. However, the New South Wales Court of Appeal held that Burton, as the organiser of a risky activity performed for his benefit, had a duty to ensure that Brookes was not injured in that activity by falling back into the empty swimming pool.

The Court found that Burton breached this duty. The fact that the branch Burton asked Brookes to cut was 'springy' made it 'virtually inevitable' that Brookes would have to hold the branch firmly and apply tension to it to allow Burton to cut it. There was a significant risk that this tension would suddenly be released when the branch was cut, and that Brookes would lose his balance and fall off the ladder into the pool in that event. 

The Court's view was that precautions such as placing boards across the end of the pool, a cover over it, a protective barrier near it or doing the work in a different way, were all available and inexpensive. It was therefore negligent for Burton to ask for Brookes' assistance without being satisfied that an accident of this type would not occur. 

The Court therefore found Burton liable but deducted 25% for Brookes' contributory negligence.

Burton v Brooks [2011] NSWCA 175

When asking friends or family to help around the house, you owe them a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that the activity can be conducted safely.​