Accident At Sixth Form Leaves Pupil With Serious Brain Injury
The Law Of... establishing liability under difficult circumstancesA child's education is such a significant part of their life, helping to mould their personalities and shape their futures, but what happens when an accident occurs in an environment that is designed to help and protect our children?
Jonathan Grundy, a Senior Associate Solicitor who specialises in brain injury claims on the Serious Personal Injury team
at Simpson Millar, explains a case that saw a young school girl with infinite potential suffer a serious brain injury at sixth form, which left her future in doubt.
'Freak Accident' In Sixth Form Common Room
Jonathan's client, aged just 17, was a model student, expecting 5 A* grades in her A Level exams, with hopes to become the first in her family to attend university.
While at sixth form, our client went to the school common room to relax between lessons. In the common room – amongst computer tables and study and lounge areas – were 2 pool tables. Our client was sitting in one of the lounge areas, away from the pool table, however a misplaced shot caused a ball from the pool table to strike our client on the head.
The injuries caused by this incident seemed minor at the time, however they had serious long-lasting effects on our client, who now suffers from fatigue, migraines, and a sensitivity to light that makes it difficult to use computers – this prohibits her from completing school work and affects any future plans to work in an office. The incident resulted in her reducing the number of A Levels she was taking to 3 and extending her time at school by another year in order to complete coursework.
Medicating her injuries has caused our client to develop brittle bones and it is now uncertain if she will ever be able to have children.
As a result of the incident our client's whole life has been affected, from changing her chances at school and affecting her future career to jeopardising her chances of a family life and making it difficult to socialise with friends.
The biggest stumbling block in this case is establishing liability for what the sixth form, and their insurance company, describe as a 'freak accident'.
All parties involved seemed to suggest that the school was not at fault for the accident, however reviewing the details of the case Jonathan saw that the school had failed in their basic duty of care to their pupils.
The school argued that there was not much more that could have been done to prevent the accident and claimed that as the pupils at sixth form are "practically adults" they cannot be supervised at all times.
Jonathan challenged this no liability argument and pointed to the following factors to strengthen his client's case:
- There was no risk assessment performed on the common room
- Pupils were not supervised while playing pool
- There were no health and safety rules posted in the common room relating to pool
- The space used was unsafe for pupils, as pool tables were so close to other areas where other students were relaxing
- Pool tables were situated at the entrance and exit of the common room and were not in the corner of the room, meaning that students walking by could be in danger
- Both the pool tables and the seats in the common room were not fastened down, meaning that students could rearrange seating and be even closer to the pool tables
Discussing why he was so keen to take the case, Jonathan said:"This is not about wrapping children in cotton wool or about prohibiting children from having any freedom or independence. This case is about protecting children and ensuring they are not endangered by ill consideration from the organisations that are supposed to care for them.""Accidents do happen and in many cases that just needs to be accepted, however difficult that may be. In this case though an accident was foreseeable and with some level of prior consideration the whole incident could have been avoided.""Through simple and cost efficient measures our client could have returned home to her parents the same way she had left in the morning; however a failure to follow simple common sense procedures has caused life-changing injuries to a young woman that had so much potential.""By denying liability and attempting to avoid a compensation claim, the other parties involved are adding insult to injury, as it seems like they are trivialising the circumstances surrounding the accident and are trying to escape their duty to protect children."
Tackling Difficult Cases
In many personal injury cases establishing liability can be a difficult task, however it is a necessary part of the claims process
and it is important that the solicitor handling a claims case does not simply give up when they face a denial of liability.
This case is just one example of Simpson Millar fighting for the rights of a client under difficult circumstances and Jonathan continues to pursue justice on the behalf of the young woman and her family, with the signs of a positive outcome looking more likely thanks to Jonathan's tenacious work.