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What liability issues could arise from a practice fun day?

Barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden advise a practice that wants to hire a bouncy castle to entertain staff and their families

Barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden advise a practice that wants to hire a bouncy castle to entertain staff and their families

The Situation

My Surgery has always held a summer "fun day" in a local park for staff and their families.

As a number of children attend, we have usually held a number of activities and this year we were thinking of organising a bouncy castle, amongst other things.

However my practice manager tells me that there may be issues of liability if anyone is injured. Is this right?

The Advice

It is likely that the practice manager is referring to the recent case of Harris v Perry & Ors, which has been widely reported in the media.

In that case the High Court held that Mr. and Mrs. Perry were liable to pay damages when Sam Harris, an 11 year old boy, suffered a fractured skull leading to brain damage when he was kicked in the head by an older boy while on a bouncy castle hired by the Perrys.

Mr and Mrs. Perry had hired a bouncy castle to celebrate the birthday of their children.

Sam Harris had been playing football with his father in a neighbouring field, and asked Mrs. Perry for permission to play on the bouncy castle.

He and an older boy were somersaulting when the older boy's heel struck him on the forehead.

At the time of the accident, Mrs. Perry was strapping another child into an inflatable "bungee run" and had her back to the bouncy castle.

The court found that Mr. and Mrs. Perry were negligent in not supervising the children, not stopping them as soon as one started to somersault, and not ensuring that children of different sizes did not mix on the bouncy castle.

The instructions which came with the hired bouncy castle had specifically mentioned these latter points.

Consequences

The case has sent a shiver down the spine of any person who has hired a bouncy castle, or similar apparatus, particularly as the award of compensation is likely to exceed £1m.

It is essential that any organisation that is considering hiring such equipment is aware of the ramifications of the decision.

The practice should therefore think carefully before deciding to hire a bouncy castle, or indeed any other similar equipment, such as inflatable bungee runs, trampolines, or other items on which children could be injured.

It should be noted that the ruling should not mean an end to any such fun.

But if the practice does decide to hire such equipment, children using it must be supervised at all times.

The supervising adult must intervene as soon as anything potentially dangerous – such as somersaulting – begins, to avoid liability.

The Perrys were insured; if the practice goes ahead with a fun day and hires equipment, obtaining insurance is certainly a sensible precaution to take.

It is also worth noting that, even if the "fun day" takes place outside of normal hours of work, this does not mean that the employer-employee relationship does not subsist.

Therefore, for example, if one member of staff is picked on or ridiculed by another member of staff, the practice may still find that a claim is brought against it, even if this happens outside of work time and the work place.

Michael Salter and Chris Bryden are barristers at 2 Gray's Inn Square Chambers: www.2gis.co.uk Michael Salter is also able to accept instructions directly from readrs of Pulse. Please visit www.michaelsalter.net for guidance on how to instruct him. Legal points are provided for discussion only and are given without obligation. For specific legal advice consult your solicitor or contact Michael Salter via his website

Law

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