A teacher who slipped on ice and fractured her arm as she escorted pupils to choir practice is not entitled to damages, a High Court judge has ruled.
Mr Justice Horner rejected Margaret McErlean’s claim that her employer at St Bride’s Primary School in south Belfast was guilty of negligence.
Dismissing the action, he said: “All activities necessarily carry a risk and it is important that institutions such as schools do not abandon a worthwhile activity simply because there is a risk of injury.”
Ms McErlean sued the school’s trustees and board of governors over the accident in December 2010.
She was escorting nearly 50 pupils along Windsor Avenue to a nearby chapel for a nativity play practice when she slipped and fell heavily.
The teacher, who had been at St Bride’s for 22 years, fractured her forearm and was off work for a number of weeks.
It was agreed that she would have been entitled to £25,000 in damages if her claim was successful.
The issue to be decided was whether her employer was liable for the personal injuries due to a breach of its statutory duty.
Weather conditions that winter had been harsh, with the temperature around freezing on the day of the accident.
The school’s headmaster had decided the trip to the chapel could go ahead after he walked nearly the entire route and concluded the footpath was passable with care.
Although Ms McErlean disagreed, complaining that it was foolish to make the journey in the conditions, other teachers backed the headmaster’s assessment.
Delivering judgment in the case, Mr Justice Horner noted: “A frequent complaint is made that the present risk averse culture makes it difficult for schools and other institutions to carry out many activities that they had carried out in the past.
“Reasonable care does not guarantee there will never be a risk of injury or that every risk will be avoided or that there will never be an accident.”
The magnitude of the risk, its obviousness and previous experience have to be weighed in the balance as well as foreseeability, he pointed out.
Mr Justice Horner held that a foreseeable risk of slipping on a frosty footpath does not make it unsafe.
As he rejected the negligence claim the judge said: “This was a most unfortunate accident. But the plaintiff’s fall did not mean that the risk assessment had been carried out carelessly or that the headmaster exercised a lack of reasonable care.”
Despite acknowledging Ms McErlean’s frustration, he added that all activities involve an element of risk.
“On the facts that I have heard, I reluctantly conclude that this was a simple accident, which occurred without legal fault on the part of her employer.”