Playtime Is Over – Schools Liability For Injury At Play

Author:Ms Elaine Healy
Profession:Dillon Eustace

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...

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