It is common knowledge that a school, through its teachers and other employees, owes a duty of care to the students attending the school but what it is the extent of that duty?
The duty of care is to take reasonable steps to avoid a risk of injury, but in considering what is reasonable, a court will look at all of the circumstances, and in particular will balance the obligation of the school in terms of ensuring physical activity, with a need to take reasonable care for safety.
Richard Faulks, Managing Director at Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers, discusses a decision of the NSW Court of Appeal in 2015 that is helpful in demonstrating the way in which the scope of the duty will be determined in a school environment. In that case [Sanchez-Sidriopoulos v Canavan], a ten year old student was taking part in a physical education class run by the defendant school. The game involved students running from one end of an asphalt court to another and whilst doing that, the young plaintiff collided with another student, fell to the ground and injured her wrist which subsequently developed into a serious condition. It was argued on behalf of the injured student that the school had breached its duty of care by promoting a game that was inherently risky and not providing adequate supervision or instructions.
The court in this matter found that there was no breach of duty because the school had an obligation to encourage its students to participate in physical activity and that needed to be balanced with the taking of reasonable care for their safety. It is not a matter of eliminating all risk of injury which would mean little or no activity was ever performed. The school had established that it had taken reasonable precautions including:
- Instructions on how to play;
- Supervision at the time; and
- Enforcement of the rules.
The court found that there was no breach of the duty imposed on the school to ensure reasonable safety.
This case demonstrates how teachers and other school employees need to assess each activity and carry out an appropriate balancing of factors. It is obviously helpful if that assessment can be recorded in case any injury does occur where a question of breach of duty arises.
Duty of care in ACT schools
Teachers and employees have a duty to take reasonable measures to protect students against the risk of injury which could reasonably have been foreseen. The duty is not to ensure there is no injury but to take reasonable care to prevent injury which could reasonably have been foreseen. This duty exists whenever a student/teacher relationship exists, while students are on school premises during hours when the school is open and while on school-based activities taking place elsewhere.
Snedden Hall & Gallop can assist you
We understand duty of care compensation claims. We can assist you in managing a case relating to a duty of care or any other dispute resolution matter. Please contact us on (02) 6285 8000 or by email. You can see details of our compensation representation here.
Richard thanks Paralegal Daniel Low for his contribution to this blog.