Former pupil loses hockey dental accident claim against school

Megan Murray was struck by a hockey stick in December 2008
Megan Murray was struck by a hockey stick in December 2008

A hockey player who suffered serious dental injuries in a first eleven match has lost a High Court negligence claim against her former school.

Megan Murray, 22, sued Rainey Endowed in Magherafelt, Co Londonderry over damage inflicted when she was not wearing a mouth guard during a game nearly eight years ago.

But refusing to award any payout, a judge ruled that the school’s policy of recommending pupils use gum shields met the appropriate standard of care.

Mr Justice Stevens said: “I find that the plaintiff’s parents were sufficiently warned as to the risks of not wearing a mouth guard and that they were not deprived of the opportunity of persuading the plaintiff to wear the mouth guard.”

Ms Murray, then aged 15, was struck by a hockey stick during a match against Friends School in December 2008.

She played centre forward for Rainey Endowed and had also been selected to represent Ulster at under 16 level.

Medical evidence in the case established that if she had been wearing a gum shield it would have prevented the damage to her teeth and probably reduced the severity of a cut to her lip.

Her lawyers claimed wearing of mouth guards should have been compulsory, and that neither she nor her parents were sufficiently warned of the risks of not using one.

Defending the action, Rainey Endowed’s trustees and board of governors argued that they had met their duty of care to Ms Murray.

Although they had not made wearing mouth guards compulsory, it was said to have been recommended to her and her parents.

The court heard a school uniform code sent out each year set out equipment and clothing required for hockey.

It included the statement: “For their own protection, it is recommended that girls wear shin guards/mouth guard during hockey activities as advised by the Hockey Federation.”

The plaintiff’s hockey teacher stated that she encouraged pupils from first year to use the guards, telling them before each session: “You only have one set of teeth. Please wear the gum shield.”

Finding sufficient warnings were given, Mr Justice Stephens held Ms Murray was kept well informed about mouth guards.

“As a result of what the plaintiff was told she knew that it was important to wear a mouth guard and she knew that it was important because otherwise her teeth could be knocked out,” he said.

Ms Murray told the court she did wear a mouth guard sometimes, but found it slightly uncomfortable and it made it more difficult to speak.

The judge found that the slight degree of inconvenience was the reason why she decided against wearing the shield on occasions despite knowing the risks involved.

Confirming that the school had effectively communicated its policies to her parents, he ruled: “I do not consider that the plaintiff has established any grounds of negligence against the defendant.”