Causation - Breach of duty causing or contributing to damage
Wilkin-Shaw v Fuller and Kingsley School: Queen's Bench Division (Mr Justice Owen): 28 June 2012
The first defendant was employed as a teacher at the second defendant school. He was also team manager for the purposes of the Ten Tors Expedition (the expedition). The expedition was an annual event held on Dartmoor and organised by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). In 2006, the first defendant attended the Ten Tors Manager's training weekend and, thereafter, trained teams of students to participate in future expeditions.
The first defendant approached a number of different organisations and individuals with a view to gaining more training himself and to train students who were intending on going on the expedition. Training was also field-based with practices taking place on school grounds as well as practice walks in other locations. The expedition involving student Charlotte Shaw (CS), who was aged 14, took place in March 2007. Ahead of the expedition, the route plan and a tracing of the route were sent to the MoD, in accordance with the expedition rules. On the first day of the expedition, the first defendant, the participating students, and a team of six adults, successfully completed the planned route and camped for the night.
That evening, it was decided that the group had shown sufficient ability to progress to remote supervision, involving the group walking unaccompanied and being met at check points. The next day, one member of the group was unable to continue with the expedition and the remaining group continued without the first defendant who accompanied her off the moor. The group reached Watern Tor on the route of the expedition, and had expected to meet two of the adult group members but they were not there. The first defendant was telephoned by one of the group at Watern Tor and he told the group that the two adults were on their way to meet them.
At Watern Tor, the group met a scoutmaster, W. The first defendant spoke with W over the telephone and took W's advice that the group were getting cold and should continue to walk. The group initially attempted to cross Walla Brook but found that they could not. The first defendant was telephoned by a student, CK, to inform him of this and an alternative route was advised by the first defendant. When the group returned to Watern Tor, W stated that he would accompany the group to a crossing point on Walla Brook. CS had been the last member of the group making the crossing. In his witness statement, W stated that CS had attempted to throw her rucksack ahead of her but it had dropped. She had gone to grab the rucksack and it pulled, toppled her and dragged her in to the stream. CS was swept away by the strong current and drowned. The claimant, the mother of CS, issued a claim against the first and second defendant seeking damages for personal injury, namely a chronic grief reaction and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from the death of CS, and as administratrix of CS's estate, seeking damages for loss to the estate.
The claimant contended that the death of CS, and the consequential loss and injury both to herself and CS's estate, were caused by the negligence of the first and/or second defendants. The claim would be dismissed. The claimant had not established that the defendants were in breach of their duty of care. The first defendant had approached the exercise in a methodical and highly conscientious manner with evident attention to detail. The group had been alerted to the risks to which water crossing gave rise and had been given appropriate guidance as to how to address such risks.
Further, the team that had been assembled by the first defendant had had the appropriate experience to enable him to safely manage the training exercise with their assistance. Furthermore, the decision to allow the group to walk unaccompanied on the second day could not be said to have been negligent. It had been taken after careful consideration and after a strong performance by the group on the first day and the manner in which the group had completed the first two legs of the second morning in adverse conditions. Finally, the advice given by the first defendant over the telephone to CK had not been negligent. The instruction not to attempt to cross the Walla Brook had been entirely appropriate. In any event, had there been a breach of the duty of care, the intervention of W had broken the chain of causation (see , , , ,  -  of the judgment).
Dr Michael Powers QC, Mark McDonald and Brent McDonald (instructed by Ashfords solicitors) for the claimant; Ronald Walker QC, Neville Spencer-Lewis and Henry Charles (instructed by Plexus Law solicitors) for the defendants.