School water fountains could be abolished, lawyers claim

Eastbourne Hastings Bexhill Rye Battle Herald Observer

Eastbourne Hastings Bexhill Rye Battle Herald Observer

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Water fountains could be banished from school play areas if a boy is allowed to keep thousands of pounds in damages he won after cutting himself when punching a drinks dispenser ‘in a rage’, the Court of Appeal heard.

Lewis Pierce was only nine-and-a-half in June 2010 when he sliced his thumb open on a stainless steel water fountain at St Andrews’ School, in Nuthurst.

He had lashed out at his younger brother during playground hijinks, missed his target and struck the fountain.

Through his mum, Annette, he sued education authority West Sussex County Council (WSCC) under the Occupiers Liability Act, and was awarded more than £3,000 compensation last November.

Brighton County Court accepted his lawyers’ argument that the school was in breach of its duty to ensure that reasonable care was taken to avoid people being injured there.

But the decision is now at the centre of a Court of Appeal test case, as the council tries to overturn the damages payout.

WSCC’s barrister Iain O’Donnell said the fountain in question was a model used in schools the length and breadth of the country and about which no complaint had ever been reported.

“It is submitted that the judgment might lead to other schools removing from their play areas all water fountains - of this and other similar types - for fear of potential claims against them,” he told the court.

He said Lewis’s younger brother was underneath the water fountain, in an outside play area, when Lewis, now 12, struck out ‘in a rage’, hitting the fountain and suffering the nasty cut on the outside of his thumb.

Last week Mr O’Donnell - who produced a fountain for the judges to inspect - said schools could never be free of hazard. To make them so, all scissors would have to be banned simply because they are sharp, he said.

“Any part of the school premises, for example the corner of a brick wall, could be perceived as sufficiently sharp to cause a laceration if punched,” he added.

Defending the damages ruling, Lewis’ barrister Shahram Sharghy, said ‘relatively inexpensive and simple steps’ could have been taken to make sure that sharp edges were made safe.

“This was the first occasion this particular school had bought a stainless steel fountain,” he told the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson.

“Within a few hours of it being installed outside, Lewis was injured. It occurred in circumstances that should have been foreseeable.”

Lord Dyson, sitting with Lord Justice McFarlane and Lady Justice Sharp, said the case was about whether the particular fountain was ‘reasonably safe’ for children.

The judges reserved their judgment on the council’s appeal until a later date.