Court shows a red card to plaintiff’s claim for soccer ball injury

07 August 2020

The plaintiff was injured while working as a Student Learning Support Officer when she was struck on the back of the head by a soccer ball kicked by a Year 11 student. She alleged the defendant’s employees (teachers) did not adequately supervise the game and/or discipline the student prior to the incident.

In issue

  • Whether the defendant breached its duty to take reasonable care to provide a safe system of work by failing to supervise the disruptive student and intervene
  • Whether this breach by the teachers prior to the incident was causative of the injury

The background

The plaintiff was injured during her employment as a Student Learning Support Officer for Pendle Hill High School on 27 March 2012. The plaintiff was struck on the head by a soccer ball kicked by a Year 11 student (‘DJ’) while her back was turned. The plaintiff sustained a C4-C5 disc herniation with significant foraminal stenosis and nerve root impingement resulting in left-sided neck and radiating shoulder and arm pain. She also sustained a C5-C6 foraminal stenosis, which required cervical decompression and fusion.

The plaintiff alleged the defendant, the Department of Education, breached its duty to take reasonable care, as its employees (the two teachers assigned to supervise the game) failed to step in and discipline DJ when he was verbally abusing other students on the soccer field. The plaintiff alleged she was required to speak to DJ herself as he was intimidating the student that she was there to support.

The plaintiff contended that if DJ had been appropriately supervised and disciplined, he would have been removed from the game for the balance of the sporting session. Therefore, the plaintiff argued that ‘but for’ the defendant’s breach, DJ would not have been present to kick the ball and she would not have been injured.

The decision at trial

The Court found the defendant’s policies concerning bullying and violence gave a range of options for intervention. However, the evidence of the defendant’s witness was accepted that, while intervention was needed based on DJ’s acts, this would likely not have involved removing him for the balance of the sporting session. The Court accepted the teachers failed to supervise and intervene in accordance with the relevant policies but did not accept that DJ would have been removed in this instance.

Further, the plaintiff failed to present evidence that DJ deliberately aimed for the plaintiff or that he acted recklessly. This was supported by the fact that 40 minutes to an hour had passed since the plaintiff spoke to DJ. As a result, the plaintiff did not discharge her onus of proving that the defendant’s breach of duty was a material cause of the harm.

Implications for you

It is important to ensure all employees comply with relevant policies and procedures in place while at work. However, the onus will be on the plaintiff to establish that any breach resulting from an employee’s failure to comply was causative of their injury.


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