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Sensible decisions on the ‘who pays’ issue

Cases where claimants pursue large amounts of compensation often hit the news as they appear to support the view that the so called 'compensation culture' continues. Two recent cases demonstrate it is anything but. It is, however, important to consider the reason for the claims in the first place, in order to understand why they proceed.

The Judges both held in two separate cases, Cockbill - V - Riley and Andrew Risk - V - Rose Bruford College, that an owner of property does not have a duty to protect a visitor from all risks and adults do have to take some responsibility for their own actions.

The reasons why these cases, and many others like them, are brought in the first place is that the claimants have suffered devastating injuries. It is understandable that they wish to investigate whether they are entitled to compensation.

The facts in both cases are similar. The claimants were visitors - the first was at a friend's house party and the second at a college event. Small inflatable pools filled with water were used as part of the events and most guests were simply jumping or stepping in feet first. Both of the claimants in these cases, however, decided that it would be more fun to dive into the shallow pools head first.

The injuries suffered by both, as a result of their actions, were catastrophic. When someone dives into a shallow pool head-first it creates a huge force on either the head or shoulders, through the arms, depending on whichever hits the ground first. The limited depth of the water is insufficient to break the force with the result that the combined speed and force of the dive breaks the neck; the diver is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

It is therefore unsurprising, in the circumstances, that the diver wishes to make a claim for compensation for the predicament he now finds himself in. These claims are never really about injury compensation - no amount of money can ever compensate for your being tied to a wheelchair for the rest of your life. What the people are really claiming for is the cost of their care. Serious injuries like these result in people needing full time care - they are unable to feed, wash or dress themselves; they need a home to live in which can be adapted for wheelchair use; they need expensive equipment around the house for their carers to use; a car has to be adapted so they can get out and about; the list goes on.

Some of this is available on the NHS but it is limited and the severely injured person makes a claim against the owner's insurers, to try and obtain money so that he can be in control of his own care and organise it as he wishes, thereby hoping to obtain a better quality of life. Further, a successful claim transfers the burden of paying for the needs of a disabled person from the state to an insurance company.

The judges in these two cases decided that there is no reason why a property owner, holding an event, should carry out risk assessments concerning the use of paddling pools by adults, nor should they have to supervise adults so as to prevent these incidents. These decisions come from common sense.