Ireland: Playtime Is Over – Schools Liability For Injury At Play

Last Updated: 28 February 2019
Article by Elaine Healy
Most Read Contributor in Ireland, September 2019

A number of schools have implemented a ban on students running in the playground because they are fearful of accidents and the possible litigation which will arise. Teaching unions have stated that this limitation on physical activity was in response to the increasing number of claims against schools in recent years and the only way that schools can reduce claims is by restricting activities.

What is the duty of care which falls on our educators? How can schools protect themselves? Are the restrictions on play justified? What approach are our courts taking?

Recent Case law

The general guiding principle is as set out in Maher v. Board of Management Presentation Junior School [2004] IEHC 337. In that case, Peart J. held that the standard of care required in school is that of the prudent parent. Teachers are said to be in loco parentis and be no more or no less vigilant than a prudent parent would be within his or her own home. In Maher, the court held that simply because an injury occurs during school hours does not mean that the school management or any individual teacher has been negligent. A degree of foreseeability is required.

In Carolan v. The Board of Management of St. Ciaran's National School [2006] IEHC 416, Feeney J. said that 'physical education is both an appropriate and vital part of the school curriculum.' During a PE class the students were playing dodge ball. The plaintiff and her classmates had to run the width of the room and avoid being hit by sponge balls which were thrown by three classmates. The plaintiff appeared to stumble or trip over her own legs as she made the final run to the other side. The plaintiff had previously made a number of successful crossings without being hit by a ball and was the last successful pupil. The court found that this was a simple and straight forward game that could be safely played. No negligence or lack of care was found on the part of the defendant and the plaintiff's claim was dismissed.

This is contrasted with the case of Kane v. Kennedy [1999] IEHC 142, where the High Court found in favour of a plaintiff who was injured while playing a game of rounders in a sports hall. The school were found negligent in failing to ensure that there was a safe distance between the home base cone to which the pupils were running and the brick wall behind it against which she fell.

More recently, the President of the Circuit Court dismissed a plaintiff's claim where he found that no prudent, reasonable or responsible parent would have prohibited the game of chase which was taking part in the school yard on the day of the plaintiff's accident.1

Fullam J. in the High Court dismissed a plaintiff's case against the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny in Killiney for injuries sustained while she was playing hockey on the school grounds. The court held that what occurred was 'an accident pure and simple' and 'if schools were to be made legally responsible for pupils slipping on wet or mucky grass in the course of outdoor games, it would be impossible to include any outdoor sport on the curriculum.'2

More recently, the High Court dismissed a plaintiff's claim where it was satisfied that the injury was not caused by any negligence or want of care on the part of the PE teacher or the school authorities. The plaintiff had sustained injuries during a PE class and alleged that there was a failure on the part of the school to train and adequately supervise him. The school denied the plaintiff's claims and argued that the activity had been demonstrated to the plaintiff. Barr J. accepted the school's account and found that injuries can occur when one is participating in a sporting activity.3

The Supreme Court looked at the issue of supervision in the case of Murphy v. County Wexford VEC[2004] IESC 49. The court found that the extent of supervision will depend on a number of factors such as:

  1. the age of the pupils;
  2. the location at which they congregate;
  3. the number of pupils present at any one time; and
  4. the propensity of pupils to act dangerously.

A rota system for supervision had been in operation at the school but did not operate on the day when the plaintiff was injured. The Supreme Court found that there was a duty of care on the school to provide supervision in accordance with the rota and the failure to do so constituted negligence on the part of the school.

Potential Impact

A statement from teaching unions would suggest that schools are considering removing outdoor sports from the curriculum to try and eliminate the risk of any potential litigation.4 This would be a shame as physical education and sport are a vital part of a child's development especially where an increase in childhood obesity in Ireland has been reported in recent years. Sports are also important in developing a child's social skills and encouraging teamwork and the ability to work with their peers.

Conclusion

The courts have supported physical activities and games within schools provided that the play is risk assessed, supervised and the correct instruction has been given.

The cases which have come before the courts highlight the need for schools to carry out appropriate risk assessments for the activities which their pupils carry out during school hours. These assessments should identify all hazards which the school considers foreseeable and contain a plan for dealing with this. If an expert opinion as to the suitability of any particular equipment or game is required, this should be sought.

Schools should also ensure that adequate supervision is put in place paying particular attention to the age of the pupils and the activity which is to be carried out. If the school operates a rota for the supervision of pupils, this ought to be strictly followed.

Footnotes:

1 Judge dismisses €38k claim after child fell playing chase in school yard – Irish Independent – 3 April 2017

2 South Dublin student loses claim over hockey injury– Irish Times – 16 December 2016

3 PE student who said he fractured knee doing high jump loses High Court action against school– Irish Examiner – 24 January 2019

4 Irish schools banning students from running in yard over accident fears – Irish Independent – 16 May 2018

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions