Paraplegic’s claim for compensation arising out of “It’s a Knockout” style games fails; risk of serious injury was very small. The claim arose out of a “Health & Fun Day” in 2005 at RAF High Wycombe. This included six “It’s a Knockout” style games. The last of the games was a relay race. Members of the teams had to run up to an inflatable rectangular pool, get in over the side, grab a piece of plastic fruit floating in or under a shallow depth of water, carry it out of the pool and deposit it in a bucket. The pool belonged to Corporate Leisure (UK) Ltd (“CL”). When it came to Mr Uren’s turn he launched himself over the side of the pool in a continuous movement, head first with his arms outstretched ahead of him. Tragically he hit his head on the bottom of the pool and broke his neck. He is now tetraplegic. He claimed that both CL and his employer, the Ministry of Defence, were negligent and in breach of statutory duty.
Held: Having accepted the expert evidence of Professor Ball (called by CL) that a very small risk of injury existed, the Judge found that this did not mean the Defendants were in breach of their duty of care. Therefore the claim failed.
Comment: Defendants and their insurers will welcome this judgment, which will provide a helpful precedent in cases where accidents occur in the course of games or sporting activities. Mr Justice Field took the view that the pool game was enjoyable in part because of the physical challenges it posed to contestants. At the conclusion of his judgment, he commented that “Enjoyable competitive activities are an important and beneficial part of the life of the very many people who are fit enough to participate in them … such activities are almost never risk-free … a balance has to be struck between the level of risk involved and the benefits the activity confers on the participants and thereby on society generally.”
The important part the expert evidence played in this case should be noted. The Judge relied heavily on the evidence of CL’s expert, Professor Ball, whom he described as “a most impressive witness”. Selecting the best expert for the case remains a key component of a successful defence.