School Insurance Legal Reviews
- Case 1 – Pupils collide during football training
This first case involved a collision between two pupils during the course of GAA training after normal school hours. The pleadings advised that the injured party was rugby tackled by a boy before the session commenced. This version changed in the course of the hearing to an accidental collision. Following the collision the injured party alleged she was forced to participate in the session despite being injured. The teacher actually witnessed the accident and attended to the injured party after the accident and tested her finger movement and her wrist and confirmed there was no bruising or redness. It was alleged that there was a lack of supervision and that the teacher should not have allowed the injured party to continue to participate in the training session. The case went to a full hearing in the Circuit Court. Evidence was given that there were 20 pupils participating in the session supervised by the teacher and a parent (who was in a car adjacent to the pitch, looking on). The Circuit Court Judge found against the school on the basis that supervision was inadequate but had no criticism to levy against the teacher or parents who were giving their time freely. The judge went on to state that the accident arose from play acting and that there was no malice in it. Finally, the Judge commented that the injured party was forced to continue with training and that although there was no medical evidence to support this, it may have exacerbated the pupil’s injury. The Judge found against the school and made an award along with an order for costs.
The case was appealed to the High Court on all grounds. Supervision at a ratio of two supervisors to twenty pupils was well within acceptable limits. No medical evidence was presented to prove any exacerbation to the injury. The case was heard in full before the High Court where the Judge dismissed the injured party’s claim and commented; “The case concerns the extent of the duty of care after hours and supervision and going out playing sport after school. The teacher was involved in an activity of public utility which was very much appreciated locally and it was something he need not have done. There was a dispute as to how the accident occurred. Initially the injured party said she was rugby tackled but later drew back on that. There was a question as to whether the teacher was there at all. His evidence is convincing and truthful. He was there at the time it occurred and observed what happened”. The Judge was equally satisfied that the teacher had tested the injured party’s fingers and checked her wrist and there was no bruising. In the end he decided it was not a serious incident and the Judge accepted that there was a system in place and the parent witness was there if other parents needed to be contacted. The Judge stated he was satisfied there was in fact supervision and it was adequate and that he saw no negligence on the part of the school. The injured party’s claim was dismissed.
- Case 2 – Slip and fall accident in the school toilet
This next case involves a pupil slip and fall in the toilet. An allegation was made that the floor had just been washed and the floor was wet as a result. The school denied that the floor had been washed. The practice was that all of the pupils had to be gone home before the toilets were cleaned. Notwithstanding that, we did not have any evidence to present that the floor was dry. Small spillages could and did occur during the course of the day. That is to be expected in a school with several hundred pupils and that on an operational basis, it is impossible to keep the floor permanently free of spillages. There was an ad hoc system of cleaning in place and we have no doubt that inspections are carried out but probably only when time allows and possibly not as often as one would wish. While onerous, a system of inspection involving the signing off of the inspection on a card located in the toilet would be an ideal solution. The case basically came down to a swearing match with the likelihood that the injured party with a genuine injury would get the benefit of the doubt from a sympathetic Judge. The case was compromised on the morning at half its estimated cost and was ruled with a recommendation from the injured party’s legal team.
- Case 3 – Pupil injured in the school yard
This last case again involves supervision in the school yard. The injured party alleged there were three or four girls running around the yard with their arms folded bumping into people. She gave evidence that one of them bumped into her deliberately and knocked her to the ground. She made no complaint at the time as she did not want to get the girl into trouble. The allegation of negligence being presented was based on lack of supervision. There were approximately 140 pupils in the yard divided into two blocks of 65 and 75 with one teacher per block. In addition to the two teachers, there were four SNA’s in the yard. Their primary role was to assist the child they were assigned to but they were also present in a supervisory capacity and if they noticed anything, they were to report it to the teacher. No “blind” running is allowed in the school yard. A witness for the school gave evidence of the school policies concerning this. At one stage running was banned and later the policy was revised to “no blind running”. The Judge ruled that no doubt the injured party suffered an injury as a result of someone making bodily contact with her. He referred to the school’s policy of supervision and said the school’s duty of care was that of a prudent parent. The Judge noted that there were two teachers and four SNA’s on supervision duty. While the SNA’s were assigned to specific children in their care, they were also a part of the overall system of supervision. He noted there was a policy of no “blind running” and said the question was one of foreseeability. He was satisfied that the onus of proof had not been discharged and he dismissed the injured party’s claim.
- Case 4 – Pupil catches finger in closing door
This case involved a pupil who caught her finger in a door as it closed. Proceedings were brought in the High Court and it was alleged that the school failed to keep the pupil who suffered the injury at a safe distance from the door until it had been properly and safely secured in an open position. Liability had been denied by the Board of Management and a full defence filed in the matter. The incident occurred when the infant placed her finger accidentally into the gap on the hinge side of the door and had suffered a nasty injury when the fire door closed on it. There was no defect in the door and it’s operation. The Judge having listened to the evidence advised that it was an unfortunate incident and just “sheer bad luck” but stated that it would be very unfortunate if the school were to be held negligent. He advised that to impose such standards on schools would mean that pupils would have to be wrapped in cotton wool. The Judge dismissed the claim and advised at the same time that the injured pupil had impressed him in the way she had given her evidence and he was happy that she had recovered and could put this incident behind her. He went on to confirm that the injured pupil had received the best possible care from her teachers. No order for costs was sought in the matter.
- Case 5 – Trip and fall accident in the classroom
This next case involves a trip and fall in the classroom. As a pupil was making her way up to the teacher’s desk, it was alleged she tripped over another pupil’s school bag and fell forward banging her head off a desk causing a laceration to her forehead. Pleadings were issued in the Circuit Court and liability was denied on behalf of the Board of Management. The class was fully supervised with the teacher and a SNA being present in the classroom at the time of the accident. The school had a policy that bags were to be hung on the back of each pupil’s chair. The case was made that the school was negligent in that they should not have allowed a school bag to be present in the passageway between the desks. Legal advice suggested that schools would do their best to keep passageways clear but considered it impossible to ensure that all passageways are kept clear every minute of every day. The layout of the classroom also involved a meandering route up to the top of the class which could also have contributed to the trip and fall. The injured party here had suffered a nasty injury with a slight scar which had a value at the high end of the Circuit Court. The case was listed for hearing and discussions took place in advance and a settlement was achieved at 25% of the value of the case. It was considered that there was a small risk on the liability front and given the age of the child, it was clear that she would receive a very sympathetic hearing if the case ran.
- Case 6 – Employee tripped and fell on stairs
This next case involved a fall on the stairs. One of the cleaners was descending the stairs carrying a vacuum cleaner when she tripped and fell suffering an injury. High Court proceedings were issued and a full defence was filed on behalf of the Board of Management. A number of allegations were made in respect of the stairs being defective and the system of work where it required the cleaner to have to carry the vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs. The case made was that the injured employee, who was wearing runners, stubbed the toe of her foot against a raised or projecting edge at the back of the nosing strip on the step. The Engineers report indicated that no such rise or projection existed and this was disputed by the injured parties legal team.
However it was conceded that there was an area of risk in the case where the system of work was concerned. The vacuum while not heavy was awkward. Carrying it would prevent ones use of the handrail with one hand used to carry the vacuum body and the other hand to carry the tube. Equally, it could have been argued that the injured party could have made two trips up and down the stairs. However a reasonable assessment would have found this out and a simple and not too costly solution would have involved the purchase of a second vacuum thereby removing the risk of the injured party having to carry the vacuum up and down the stairway. Taking all of the above into consideration a compromise settlement was achieved to include the injured party’s costs.
- Case 7 – Pupil trips and falls in the school yard
This last case again involves a trip and fall, this time in the school yard. The injured party here was involved in a game of football. He was playing with a group of his friends and during the course of the game fell and struck his face off a wooden play snail which was one of two wooden play objects in the yard (the other one being a wooden horse). The area had a tarmacadam surface which was in good condition. No reason was given for the fall and the case proceeded to a full hearing in the Circuit Court. The injured party’s evidence was that he stumbled and fell against the snail. There were four teachers and two SNA’s supervising in the yard at the time. The Judge heard the evidence and advised that he was satisfied the injured party was playing football in the alcove section of the yard and there were two jumpers down to make goals and he was also satisfied that the injured party fell against the wooden snail. He advised that there were a substantial number of teachers and SNA’s on supervision duty and that they would have to be super human to see everything that occurred. He stated that accidents happen and there were issues of public policy which had to be considered and that he could see no evidence of a departure from the normal duty of care placed upon a school and in the absence thereof, no liability could attach to them. He held that there was no breach of duty of care for the following reasons; there was adequate supervision, it was an accident and it was not preventable. Accordingly, he dismissed the injured party’s claim and was not inclined to make any order with regard to costs.