RAF Fun Day Highlights the Claimant's Responsibility to Manage Risks

Risk is a part of everyday life and, unfortunately, accidents that result in injury can occur in almost any situation. However, personal injury claims often arise where accidents are caused by the negligent acts or omissions of other people. The question of liability in personal injury claims usually hinges on several key points: whether a duty of care existed between the defendant and the claimant; whether this duty of care was breached; and whether the breach of the duty of care caused the claimant’s injury.

In other words, the common law of England and Wales has evolved in such a way as to allow an injured party to claim for compensation if it can be successfully established that somebody else caused the harm. However, it should be noted that the law does not demand a defendant to exclude every possible risk, as otherwise the tests of causation would open the floodgates to potentially unlimited accident claims.

In the recent case of Robert Lee Uren v Corporate Leisure (UK) Ltd and Others, Robert Uren sought compensation after he was injured during a ‘health and fun day’ at an RAF base. The event was organised by the RAF and comprised a number of opposing flight crews, who competed in various fun games.

These games included ‘the pool game’, which involved participants running up to an inflatable pool, getting in, grabbing a plastic fruit and carrying it out of the pool before throwing it in a bucket. As the pool game was a relay race, other team members would then run the course, with the aim of finishing the event first with the most pieces of plastic fruit. Clearly, the pool game was designed to offer morale-boosting fun to RAF personnel.

Unfortunately, upon diving head first into the inflatable pool, which was not especially deep, Mr Uren made contact with the bottom of the pool and broke his neck. Specifically, Mr Uren’s mid-cervical spine was fractured in three places, which left him tetraplegic and indefinitely confined to a wheelchair. Quite understandably, Mr Uren pursued a claim for compensation through his solicitors, who contended that the entire health and fun day was found wanting in terms of health and safety. The claim was made against Corporate Leisure Ltd, who owned the inflatable pool, the Ministry of Defence (Mr Uren’s employers) and Corporate Leisure Ltd’s public liability insurers, David Lionel Pratt.

Mr Uren’s claim centred on two key issues: first, that the defendants were in breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations; and second, that the defendants were in breach of their common law duty of care by failing to ensure that the pool game was reasonably safe.

In respect to the latter issue, it was also argued that the event’s organisers failed to prohibit entry into the pool by diving, which was suggested to be a reasonably foreseeable act. Unfortunately for Mr Uren, his personal injury claim failed after it was ruled that the health and fun day was only good for the participants’ health because it involved a physical challenge. That physical challenge comprised an element of risk, which the court judged to be reasonably small.

However, the court did add that, in future cases, employers or event organisers would need to take into account the age and fitness of the participants, in addition to balancing the potential benefits of an activity with the risk of serious injury.

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