A recent Queensland Supreme Court case, Reardon v State of Queensland  QSC 105, was decided by Justice Cullinane on 15 May 2007, with judgment against the plaintiff who was rendered quadriplegic after diving into a rock pool in a National park near Townsville.
The plaintiff, who was then in his last week of Year 12, travelled to the Alligator Creek National Park with five other classmates, a few days ahead of the scheduled date set by the High School, who had organised a trip to the park for the entire Year 12 class.
The plaintiff and his classmates intended to camp at the park overnight. There is a main sign at the self registration board, where all campers were supposed to register on arrival at the camp, containing warnings for individual's safety within the park, including warnings to "never jump or dive into natural waterways" and "watch your step, keep well away from cliff edges, waterfalls and slippery rocks". An additional sign was on one of the walls of the information centre which included "do not dive or jump into water holes".
The plaintiff alleged that he did not see any signs upon arrival. The following morning, the classmates decided to proceed to the rock pool where the accident occurred. The rock pool was known as "The Coffin" due to the narrow rectangular shape of the body of the water which is formed by surrounding rock walls.
The plaintiff alleged that after jumping off on one side of the rock wall, he found it to be deep enough for diving and then the classmates all moved to the opposite side of the rock pool where the ledge was higher and begun jumping off again. The plaintiff was the last one to have a try on the opposite side and it was this dive which rendered him a quadriplegic.
There is no dispute that the State owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. However, Cullinane J was not convinced that the plaintiff would have avoided diving into the rock pool had he been warned of the ledge.
Justice Cullinane did not believe "The Coffin" rock pool was so special as to warrant the erection of a general warning sign at the entry of the creek. His Honour further held that the plaintiff was well aware of the dangers involved and took steps to check that he could dive safely where he intended to dive. Therefore, Cullinane J believed that it would be quite unrealistic to expect that had the plaintiff and his classmates seen such a sign, it would have altered their conduct on that day.
This case continues the recent trend of dismissing diving cases as led by the High Court in Mulligan v Coffs Harbour City Council (2005) 23 CLR 486 and Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 442. However, defendants and their insurers should still approach such diving cases with care because, as this case shows, various issues such as the plaintiff's age and knowledge of area, and the defendant's response to the risk, including the use of warning signs, are still considered.
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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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