Party host not liable for catastrophic injuries

Posted: 10th April 2013

In a decision which will resonate with any parent, the High Court has ruled that a father who hosted a garden party for his teenage daughter, during which a young guest broke his neck whilst attempting to belly-flop into a paddling pool, did not breach the duty of care he owed the accident victim.

Ryan Cockbill, a London 2012 Paralympic torchbearer and rifle shooter, was aged 16 when he hit his head on the bottom of the blow-up pool and suffered catastrophic spinal injuries. He sought multi-million-pound compensation from party host and former primary school head teacher, David Riley.

Mr Riley had provided modest amounts of alcohol for the party and had not sought to intervene when teenagers also brought their own alcohol with them. Mr Cockbill’s lawyers argued that he should have done more to control alcohol consumption and to prevent ‘boisterousness’ amongst his daughter’s guests.

Lawyers representing Mr Riley insisted there was nothing wrong with responsible teenagers, many of whom he had known since their infancy, being allowed to drink modest amounts of alcohol under supervision at a private party. Mr Riley had made efforts to ‘calm things down’ when he thought ‘the boys were getting a bit boisterous’ by getting them to come and eat some food from the barbecue.

Dismissing Mr Cockbill’s claim, Mr Justice Bean said: "The submission that allowing the use of a paddling pool at a party attended by 16-year-old friends of the occupier's children of itself creates a foreseeable risk of significant injury or justifies a formal risk assessment is in my view quite unrealistic. Nor do I consider that the fact that the guests were allowed to consume modest quantities of alcohol made the risk of significant injury foreseeable".Paddlingpool

“There is no evidence that anyone drank alcohol to the point where they were misbehaving, rude or aggressive, or unsteady on their feet. The heart of the case was really the submission that, by not intervening earlier and more forcefully when six or seven boys were running and jumping into the pool, Mr Riley created a situation with an obvious risk of serious injury. I do not accept that he did.

"It was foreseeable that someone would lose their footing and suffer minor injury. It was not foreseeable that someone would attempt to carry out a dive or belly-flop and thus suffer grave injury. The danger of diving into even a swimming pool of uncertain depth, let alone a paddling pool, is obvious to any adult and indeed to most children old enough to have learned to dive. I am not satisfied that Mr Riley was in breach of his duty of care to Ryan. I must therefore give judgment for Mr Riley and dismiss the claim."

The judge concluded: "I understand that Ryan will be bitterly disappointed with this conclusion and that anything I choose to add will be of little comfort to him. But it would be wrong for me to conclude this judgment without commending him for his candour, straightforwardness and resilience. No one who heard his evidence in court could have anything but the greatest possible sympathy for him as he bravely deals with the consequences of a moment's error of judgment."