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Scout Association v Barnes [2010] EWCA Civ 1476

TORT – NEGLIGENCE – IMPACT OF SOCIAL UTILITY ON THE STANDARD OF CARE

Facts

The claimant was a thirteen-year-old boy scout. His scout troupe organised a game wherein the scouts would run about in a hall in the dark, racing to take a block in the middle. Those who did not get a block would be eliminated from the game. During the game, the claimant was injured after chasing a block that had been accidentally kicked away by another player. The claimant sued the Scout Association in the tort of negligence.

Issue

Establishing the tort of negligence involves establishing that the defendant breached their duty of care to the claimant. To establish breach, the claimant must establish that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in their position. This is known as the standard of care.

Various factors have been held to be relevant to assessing the standard of care, such as the risk and severity of harm, as well as the social value of the defendant’s activities. The issue in this case was the weight to be given to the social value of the Association’s activities.

Held

The Court of Appeal held that the defendant was liable.

The majority of the Court accepted that the Association’s activities were of great social value, and that their activities will often and properly involve an element of risk to achieve this value. However, the level of risk incurred had to be acceptable and proportionate to the social value.

In this case, playing the game in darkness did not make the activity any more socially valuable than the same game played in the light. As such, it added an extra element of risk which was not outweighed by the social value of the activity.


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