Fun and Games … and Legal Risk

By Lee Dawkins

The courts have warned against creating an overprotective nanny state which robs young people of fun simply because there was some risk involved in certain activities. 

The comment was made in the case of The Scout Association v Mark Barnes where the Court of Appeal was asked to rule on the balance between the “sociable and educational value” of an activity and the risk of injury it presented to the young. 

The case involved a game that took place at a Scout meeting.  It was a popular game, but to add extra excitement it was played with the lights turned off.  Unfortunately one of the participants was injured and brought a claim for compensation.  The case was successful, with the judge concluding that an “unacceptable degree of risk” had been introduced by playing the game in the dark.  The Scout Association appealed, arguing that the judge had given insufficient weight to the “social value of the activity”. 

The law recognises that activities involving the young have educational and social benefits and that these considerations must be taken into account when deciding if there is legal liability for any injuries suffered. 

However, although the appeal judges were keen to point out that legal liability should not interfere with risky activities which have a social and educational value, they nevertheless decided that The Scout Association had been at fault in this particular instance. 

So, despite its warnings of an overprotective nanny state, the court drew the conclusion that playing the game in the dark had not added any further social or educational value to the game.  When this factor was weighed against the increased risk of injury it became, in the judge’s eye, unacceptable. 

This case underlines the need to strike the correct balance between risk and fun.  The difficulty for everyone involved is identifying precisely where that balance lies.  Claims will be considered on a case by case basis but it is clear from this latest ruling that the fact that an activity is fun or has social or educational value is not of itself sufficient.

Fun and Games … and Legal Risk
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