23 July, 2014
Wainwright v Salford City Council
Judgement of HHJ Armitage QC - 17th June 2014, Manchester County Court
Forbes recently successfully defended a claim at trial on behalf of Salford City Council. It was alleged that a pupil sustained a personal injury on 1st March 2006 whilst participating in a school trampolining lesson. The pupil, who was 13 at the time of the accident, broke her left arm and required surgery.
It was alleged that the teacher in charge of the lesson was inadequately qualified and had not implemented a sufficient lesson plan. It was further alleged that the Claimant was not supervised and that the teacher had failed to observe the pupil contrary to the British Gymnastic Association Code of Practice.
The Claimant had limited previous experience of using a trampoline and she was placed in the bottom group. The question before the Court was namely whether the teacher instructed or led the Claimant to believe that she should have been undertaking the advanced seat drop to front drop manoeuvre. If that was the case, then the teacher had fallen below the standard reasonably expected of him.
The Defendant argued that the class had been appropriately instructed and that the teacher in charge of the lesson was competent in this particular skill. The lesson plan was both detailed and appropriate, allowing pupils to be adequately instructed. The Defendant argued that it would have been necessary for pupils to demonstrate themselves capable before being permitted to move onto a more complicated manoeuvre such as the one described.
The Claimant's recollection was not at all consistent with the lesson plan, and she described being instructed to carry out a manoeuvre requiring her to drop on to her hands and knees. This was emphatically denied by the Defendant.
The Judge was of the view that as the Claimant was now 21, he would be amazed if either the Claimant or the teacher had a specific recollection of the events of that day. He anticipated that the Claimant's memory would have been clouded somewhat by the pain and distress caused by the incident which would have been distracting at the time. The Claimant's difficulty was that she was unable to provide any evidence of what was said at or near the time. The Claimant's mother instructed solicitors and took the Claimant to them while she was still in plaster. The Judge described it as extraordinary that nobody, at that time, asked her to give an account of what occurred.
The Judge concluded that he found it wholly improbable that the teacher said anything to the lower category group to lead them to believe that they were supposed to do the seat drop to front drop manoeuvre. It follows that if the Claimant did attempt the manoeuvre she went far beyond what she was asked to do. The Judge considered the possibility that children will watch others and try to emulate them. He was satisfied that if the Claimant attempted the seat drop to front drop it was because she wanted to do it, not because she was asked or instructed to do so. He found it was therefore inappropriate to judge the teacher's actions as negligent. The claim was therefore dismissed and costs awarded to the Defendant.