Had a school failed in its duties of reasonable care towards a
pupil injured in a hockey match?
Megan Murray v Mark McCullough on behalf of Rainey Endowed
School 2016 NIQB 52
In their enthusiasm to take part, young people don't always
appreciate the risks inherent in a sport, leading to injury.
Here the court in Northern Ireland had to decide whether the
school ought to have made the wearing of mouth guards mandatory
after a fifteen year-old girl was struck in the mouth playing
In December 2008, fifteen year-old Megan Murray was a skilled
hockey player appearing in a match for her school, Rainey Endowed
School against Friends School. She was not wearing a mouth guard.
At some point during the match, she was struck in the mouth by a
hockey stick, damaging her teeth and cutting her lip.
The court accepted that had a mouth guard been worn, damage to
the teeth would have been prevented, and the cut would have been
Megan brought a case against the School, saying that they ought
to have made the wearing of mouth guards mandatory; that she
wasn't sufficiently warned of the risks of not wearing one; and
that her parents were not sufficiently warned, thus depriving them
of the opportunity of persuading Megan to wear one.
The School accepted that they owed a duty of care to Megan, but
argued that they had fulfilled it. Their "School Uniform
Code" issued to pupils and parents recommended that shin
guards and mouth guards were worn "as advised by the Hockey
This reference was to the International Hockey Federation whose
own rules also recommended, but did not make mandatory, the wearing
of shin guards and mouth guards.
Reference was also made to a 2008 publication from the
Association for Physical Education ("Safe Practice in Physical
Education and School Sport"), which "highly
recommended" the wearing of mouth guards, and said that staff
should always seek to communicate their policies regarding the same
to pupils and parents.
An expert for Megan tried to argue that "highly
recommended" in this context meant mandatory. Megan also said
that the wearing of shin guards was mandatory in the School, and
therefore the same should have applied to mouth guards.
The court found that the School had fulfilled their duties of
The duty of care was that which was reasonable in all the
circumstances. The court accepted the evidence that the school had
issued the Uniform Code with its recommendation to wear the mouth
guard. It also found that the standard procedure at schools in
Northern Ireland was for the use of mouth guards to be highly
recommended, rather than mandatory.
It rejected the contention by the expert that "highly
recommended" meant mandatory. As Justice Stephens said,
"That is not the ordinary use of English language" and
there was no compelling reason to interpret it in that way.
Further, the court accepted evidence from the School's
hockey teacher that Megan had been told several times in her first
three years at school that she should wear a mouth guard to protect
In coming to these conclusions, Justice Stephens paid particular
attention to Megan's age, and in particular, found she was able
to understand and weigh the risks.
Finally, Megan's mother had accepted she had received the
Uniform Code and read it each time it was sent to her. Her parents
knew the risks of her not wearing a mouth guard, and could have
This is a refreshing decision that indicates that people still
have responsibility for their own personal safety when they take
part in sporting activities.
The duty of a school in such circumstances is that of reasonable
care. So long as they have followed common practice and can
properly demonstrate that they have taken into account risks and
warned parents and pupils accordingly, there may be a defence.
Much will depend on the circumstances of each case, however, and
the age of the pupil involved. Where that pupil is younger, the
standard of what is reasonable will understandably be much
In the United Kingdom, when victims of life-changing personal injuries accept lump sum compensation payments, the actual amount they are awarded by English Courts is adjusted according to the interest that they can expect to earn by investing the award.
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