Teacher loses £5m claim for damages after being paralysed in welly-wanging accident
Monday 13 August 2012
A teacher who was left paralysed after breaking his neck in a freak welly-wanging accident on a school trip has lost his High Court claim for more than £5 million in damages.
A judge ruled: "Extremely sad though it be, this was a tragic and freak accident for which no blame can be established."
Glennroy Blair-Ford was on a week of outdoor activities with his secondary school pupils on Dartmoor in April 2007 when he took part in a "Mini Olympics" event on the final night.
One of the games involved children and adults throwing wellington boots as far as they could, with the teachers handicapped by having to throw backwards through their legs.
But the 45-year-old former head of design and technology at Wilmington Enterprise College, Dartford, Kent, swung his boot and was propelled head-first to the ground.
Mr Blair-Ford, then of Bromley, south east London, was catastrophically injured, fracturing his neck, and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Mr Blair-Ford sued CRS Adventures Ltd, operators of an outdoor pursuits centre at the River Dart Country Park in Devon.
His lawyers argued that he had been asked by centre staff to throw the welly adopting an "unsafe" method during an "evening fun event".
They contended his injuries were "a logical and foreseeable consequence" of the six-foot tall, 15-stone teacher throwing the welly backwards through his legs using the requested method.
They argued before Mr Justice Globe, sitting in London, that Mr Blair-Ford was entitled to damages because CRS had failed in its duty of care by not carrying out an assessment of the risks, and if it had done so "the method of throw would have been modified".
Today the judge rejected the claim that CRS was liable and ruled there was "no foreseeable real risk" of injury from welly-wanging.
Mr Blair-Ford and his insurers now face a large legal costs bill. The judge ordered an interim payment of £100,000 to CRS pending a final assessment of the total amount.
In a written ruling, the judge said Mr Blair-Ford had suffered "a catastrophic spinal injury".
Until the tragedy, he was a keen cyclist who would ride 10 miles to and from school two or three times a week, would do a five-mile run once a week, would swim regularly three times a week and was using light weights at home.
He was "fit and well" and had a history of playing rugby and throwing the discus when at school.
In April 2007, he was one of five staff who took about 40 pupils aged between 11-14 on a residential activity course at the country park.
On April 19, the last day of the course, the Mini-Olympics was arranged on a lawn with school fete style events including a sack race, three-legged race and tug-of-war.
The welly-wanging was the second event to take place, said the judge.
Rejecting the damages claim, the judge ruled the risk that needed to be foreseeable for the claim to succeed was "the risk of serious injury and not just the risk of any injury".
But even if the test had been foreseeability of "any" injury the result would have been the same.
The judge said he was "satisfied that there is good evidence of a number of people having witnessed on an appreciable number of occasions people throwing the welly backwards through the legs with two hands with no difficulty, no falling and no injury."
This was further supported by the evidence of everyone present. They were unconcerned about welly-wanging taking place and they did not immediately appreciate what had happened when the accident occurred.
The judge concluded: "On the evidence I have heard, the risk of injury was not such that steps should have been taken to guard against it.
"In my judgment, the evidence of its likelihood was indeed 'lacking such reality that it could be disregarded' and was at most 'a mere possibility which would never influence the mind of a reasonable man'."
The judge added: "There was no foreseeable real risk. Extremely sad though it be, this was a tragic and freak accident for which no blame can be established."
It is understood that Mr Blair-Ford's lawyers are considering whether to appeal against today's ruling on liability to the Court of Appeal.
They are fighting for a compensation package worth more than £5 million to fund the full-time care he will need for the rest of his life.
The ruling against him on liability blocks his current claim.
The teacher was 40 at the time of the accident and was treated at hospitals in Torbay, Plymouth and Sheffield before going to live at a nursing home in south London several miles away from his family's home on a private estate in Bromley.
He is unable to move his body below the neck and requires ventilator support 23 hours per day and is dependent on others for all aspects of day-to-day life.
A devoted Christian, he has published many articles and delivered lectures on his faith and continued after his accident to participate in Bible classes using special software.
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