A student's negligence claim against a school following a football game collision has failed due to the school's proper supervision and safe conduct of the game.
In Mattock v State of New South Wales (NSW Department of Education) (No 2)  NSWSC 1045, a student sued his PE teacher and the school following a 'head knock' collision during a football game.
This case is an important reminder for schools to implement safe practices and ensure teachers are properly trained to supervise students.
The student was a grade 9 student at Eden Marine High School. During a hybrid game of touch football and rugby league in a sports class, the student collided with another student when they both jumped to intercept the ball.
Mr Blair was an experienced physical education teacher who was supervising the class. Mr Blair assessed the student to check for concussion or a possible head injury. Mr Blair concluded that the student was dazed but not seriously injured, and he sent the student to the first aid office.
The first aid officer believed that it only looked like a minor accident, so she did not conduct any concussion tests, prepare an incident report, or call an ambulance. The first aid officer offered to call the student's mother, but the student said that his mother would be out of range and that he would get the bus home.
When the student fell backwards down the stairs of the bus, the bus driver refused to let the student travel on the bus. The student wandered towards the beach because he could not get his bearings. The student's friends found him and called his mother to pick him up.
The student's mother drove him to the hospital. She claimed that the student 'passed out' in the car, had slurred speech, and was finding it difficult to walk. After the accident, the student started getting seizures. However, multiple CT head scans failed to detect any abnormalities.
Negligence claims against teacher and school
The student claimed that the way the football game was commenced, with players competing for a ball in the air, constituted a foreseeable and not insignificant risk of harm to students, and that the staff at the school should have taken precautions to protect students. The student claimed that the significant injury, loss and damage he suffered were caused by Mr Blair's negligence.
The student also claimed that the school failed to provide adequate first aid care post-incident by failing to monitor and supervise him.
Court determines that risk of harm was insignificant
The elements of negligence are a duty of care, a breach of duty, and damage suffered as a result of the breach.
While schools have a duty of care in relation to students, schools are not absolutely liable for injuries sustained by students while they are under the supervision of their teachers.
The mere fact that a serious injury or death may occur while students are playing a game at school will not automatically result in a finding that a breach of duty has occurred. Every sport carries a foreseeable risk of injury. Games that involve potential collision are ordinarily part of the school curriculum even though they can lead to injury.
In this case, although the risk was foreseeable, the risk of physical harm was insignificant.
No negligence due to proper supervision and safe conduct of game
The Court determined that the school did not breach its duty of care to the student.
Although there was a possibility that accidental contact could occur, the football game was controlled, properly supervised, and conducted in a safe manner.
The student had had experience playing rugby league since he was young. A reasonable student in the student's position would have considered the probability of harm when attempting to catch the ball and whether they would be injured.
Lessons for schools
Although the student's negligence claim failed, the Court assessed that the student would have been awarded $579,949.83 if the student's claim had succeeded.
This case is an important reminder for schools to ensure that all sporting games are properly supervised by trained teachers. Teachers should be aware of steps they need to take if a student is injured while playing sport.
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