Injured schoolboy stripped of compensation

Posted: 17th October 2013

SchoolIn a reminder that accidents are often no-one’s fault, the Court of Appeal has stripped a schoolboy of the damages he was initially awarded after cutting his thumb on a playground water fountain whilst trying to land a punch on his younger brother.

Schools could not always guard against children ‘larking around’ and ‘getting into mischief’ and to uphold 12-year-old Lewis Pierce's award would mean ‘the law parting company with common sense’, the Court ruled in upholding an appeal by local education authority, West Sussex County Council.

Lewis was a nine-year-old pupil at a Sussex school in June 2010 when his younger brother sprayed him from the water fountain which had been installed less than a week earlier. The seven-year-old ducked as Lewis made to punch him, missed and instead hit the water fountain, suffering a nasty cut to his right thumb which had to be repaired under general anaesthetic and left a visible scar.

Lewis sued the council and won £3,215 in compensation at Brighton County Court. Although the water fountain was identical to thousands of others installed in 20% of schools in England and Wales, the judge found that its sharp edge had posed a foreseeable risk of injury to children.

Challenging the judge’s finding that it was liable under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, the Council protested that the edge was ‘not unduly sharp to normal touch’ and that Lewis' injury was caused by his own ‘spontaneous and unpredictable act’ in forcibly punching the fountain.

Allowing the Council’s appeal, the Court acknowledged that ‘children do not behave like adults and are inclined to lark around’. However, it found that the fountain could by no stretch of the imagination be viewed as a danger to young people. A ruling in Lewis' favour would oblige schools to pad or otherwise protect every edge or corner on which children might injure themselves, and the Court remarked: "The law would part company with common sense if that were the case".

The Court concluded: "It is of course unfortunate that this little boy hurt his thumb in what might be described as a freak accident, but such things happen. This was not a case where the council was liable in law for his injury".