I turned 29 this week. As I reminisced about the days when hangovers were a mild inconvenience to be overcome within a matter of hours, my attention was drawn to a recent case arising out of an end-of-GCSE party, a paddling pool and an attempted bellyflop that went tragically wrong.
On 20 July 2006, Ryan Cockbill went to a barbeque organised by a friend – Sarah Riley, armed with a 12 pack of Budweiser beer and 12 bottles of Vodka Kick. When he arrived, he saw that two paddling pools had been set up in the back garden at Sarah’s house; photographs taken at the time show that the larger pool came up to adult waist-height.
The party was in full-swing, with a number of teenagers becoming boisterous but not behaving drunkenly. Sarah’s father decided it was time to serve up food and line a few young stomachs.
Ryan had not taken swimming trunks with him but was offered a pair by a friend. Whilst everyone was eating, he changed into them in an upstairs bathroom. When he came back down to the garden, he said “watch me go” and went across to the pool intending to do a bellyflop. He doesn’t remember what happened after that.
It appears that Ryan entered the paddling pool head first, which caused him to fracture his spine, rendering him tetraplegic. A claim was issued against Mr Riley, Sarah’s father, claiming that he had been negligent in, among other ways, not intervening earlier and more forcefully when six or seven boys were running and jumping into the pool.
On 22 March, dismissing the claim, Mr Justice Bean held that it was reasonably foreseeable that someone would lose his footing and suffer minor injury. However, even after a number of boys had jumped into the pool feet first, it was not reasonably foreseeable that someone would attempt to carry out a dive or a belly-flop and thus suffer grave injury ( EWHC 656 (QB) at ).
This treatment of foreseeability is interesting. It could be argued that the accident, framed in more general terms was foreseeable – that teenagers would mess around in the pool at the risk of some personal injury – for example. Since the House of Lords decision in Hughes v Lord Advocate ( 2 W.L.R. 779) the Courts have been encouraged to take a broad approach to the categorisation of damage. Therefore, whilst I agree with Mr Justice Bean’s conclusions as to breach of duty, he has defined the foreseeable risks in this case too narrowly, in my view.