The State of Queensland has been held liable for
insufficiently warning of the risks of harm in the Queensland
Supreme Court decision of Kelly v State of Queensland  QSC
The plaintiff was rendered a tetraplegic when he ran down a sand
dune and landed head first in shallow water at Lake Wabby on Fraser
Island. The plaintiff alleged negligence against the government
entity that had the care, control and management of the area.
Breach of duty
There was no dispute that the defendant owed the plaintiff a
duty of care. In finding that the duty had been breached, the Court
considered a number of factors, including:
The history of injury occurring at the lake: There had been 18
incidents over 17 years.
The adequacy of the warnings given to visitors: Visitors were
shown a warning video before they arrived at the island. The Court
found that the video did not provide an adequate warning of the
dangers inherent in a visit to the lake because it did not outline
the dangers of running down the steep dunes, nor did it contain
reference to the numerous past injuries sustained in the area.
The provision of warning signs at the entrance track, 2.5 km
away from the lake: The Court found that the defendant had breached
its duty by failing to ensure that the signs more definitively
identified the dangers by reference to the number of previous
injuries and the dangers of running down the dunes; not just diving
into shallow water. The plaintiff had not 'dived' in this
case, but 'landed', head first.
Obvious risk and dangerous recreational activity
The defendant argued that the risk was obvious and involved a
dangerous recreational activity. The Court rejected both arguments,
after weighing the likelihood and magnitude of risk of injury
against the plaintiff's knowledge and experience, the firmness
of the sand, the lack of likelihood of tripping and the lack of
foreseeability of serious injury from the activity.
The plaintiff was found to have contributed to his injury by
15%, due to his failure to closely study the warning signs. The
Court accepted that the plaintiff would have avoided the activity
if the warnings on the video and the signs had stated the true
cause and level of the risk of injury.
Public liability risk management lessons
This case provides an important warning about the extent to
which an entity may be expected to warn the public of injury risks.
General risk warnings may be insufficient, especially for areas
with a significant history of incidents and injuries.
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This was an interlocutory decision about the appointment of a tutor for the child appellant, to carry on his proceedings.
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