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Activity centre not liable for “freak accident” which broke teacher’s neck

Welly thrown during mini Olympics in a way which 'could not have been foreseen'

14 August 2012

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An activity centre is not liable for a “tragic and freak accident” in which a teacher broke his neck during a ‘welly-wanging’ competition, the High Court has ruled.

Glennroy Blair-Ford agreed to throw the welly backwards, through his legs, during a school trip with children aged 11 to 14 from his secondary school in Kent, the court heard. After he threw it, he toppled forwards onto his head and neck, resulting in a spinal injury so serious it led to permanent tetraplegia.

Blair-Ford was six foot and 15 stone at the time, a former rugby player and a keen runner and cyclist.

Delivering judgment in Blair-Ford v CRS Adventures [2012] EWHC 2360 (QB), Mr Justice Globe said he was “entirely satisfied” that Roger and Clare Sell were running an “efficient and professionally run operation for the benefit of the public and for school-children in particular”.

He went on: “It was, and still is, an enterprise which provides immense social value. It has been correctly licensed and monitored and its systems have been complemented by regulators.

“Save for this incident, its accident record is excellent. There have been no other recorded incidents in relation to welly-wanging.”

Globe J said the ‘mini Olympics’, during which the accident happened, was not regarded as an event that needed licensing requirements.

However, he said there was a “dynamic risk assessment” and discussion with teachers about the method in which they would be handicapped during the ‘welly-wanging’ event.

Globe J accepted the evidence of two course instructors that they thought about the dangers, “which were not limited to consideration of whether anybody in the audience would be struck with a flying boot, and concluded that they envisaged no risk of any injury at all, still less any serious injury”.

The judge said that when Blair-Ford came to throw the welly, his head would have been “low down by his legs”.

He went on: “His hands went through his legs with a lot of force, throwing the welly high into the air. By virtue of the angle of the throw in that position, he did not gain much distance, which was not what he intended.

“It was then that he toppled over and fell onto his head and neck rather than toppling forwards onto his face and chest.

“I agree with the defence proposition that the execution of his throw brought together a combination of circumstances which cumulatively could not have been foreseen, namely, considerable force, bending very low, positioning the head almost between the knees, falling forwards when the hands were still between the knees, and striking the ground with his head and neck at such an angle as to cause the catastrophic injury sustained by him.

“His was no ordinary throw. The fact that the welly went almost straight up in the air rather than being thrown a long distance is powerful evidence that he threw it and fell in an unusual way that was not and, in my judgment, could not have been foreseen.”

Concluding that there was “no foreseeable real risk”, Globe J said: “Extremely sad though it be, this was a tragic and freak accident for which no blame can be established.”

He dismissed the claim.

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