"Belly flop" teenager fails with party paddling pool claim

Cockbill v Riley (Queens Bench Division, 22 March 2013)     

The 16-year-old claimant attended the defendant’s daughter’s end-of-GCSEs party and suffered a spinal fracture and incomplete tetraplegia following an accident diving into a paddling pool.     

The Court found that the defendant had provided a modest amount of alcohol and the guests had brought their own.  Neither the claimant nor anyone else was visibly affected by alcohol.  No one had dived into the pool before the claimant.  When the guests’ behaviour had begun to get a bit boisterous, food was served.   

The claimant had intended to do a “belly flop” but misjudged the angle.  He did not slip on wet grass.   

The claimant argued that by not intervening earlier in the boisterous play, the defendant had created a situation with an obvious risk of serious injury.    

The judge held it was not reasonably foreseeable that someone would try to dive or belly flop into the pool.  The defendant did not have a duty to tell the guests not to run and jump into the pool – even if they would have obeyed the instruction.    

Allowing the use of the paddling pool of itself did not create a foreseeable risk of injury or justify a formal risk assessment.  The defendant was found not to be in breach of his duty of care and the claim was dismissed.   

Had the defendant been found liable, the claimant’s contributory negligence would have been assessed at two-thirds.   

Comment – The case provides guidance on the duty of care owed by the parents of teenage children hosting a party at home.  Leading counsel for both parties and the judge agreed it amounted to: “Reasonably… keep an eye on what was going on; to keep abreast of what people were doing: if matters were getting out of hand, to intervene in a reasonable manner, though not so as to spoil the party”.