A lawyer's take on the 'bouncy castle' appeal

Timothy & Catherine Perry vs Samuel Harris (A Minor), also known as the “bouncy castle case”, was one of the most important insurance trials of 2008.

The somewhat harsh first decision has been successfully appealed. The court has reverted to the common-sense approach we expect in occupiers’ liability cases.

The Court of Appeal decided the judge had imposed too high a standard of care in holding that a bouncy castle required constant supervision. There was no breach of duty of care to allow children of different ages to play on it together.

The claimant, Samuel Harris, was an 11 year old who suffered serious head injuries following an accident on a bouncy castle, during which an older and taller child somersaulted and struck his heel on Samuel’s forehead. The defendants, Timothy and Catherine Perry, had hired the bouncy castle for their children’s party and had given permission for Samuel to play on it.

At trial, the defendants were found liable to the claimant. The court found Catherine Perry owed a duty of care to maintain uninterrupted supervision of the bouncy castle and, had she not been attending to another child on another piece of equipment, the incident could have been prevented. Timothy Perry was also found negligent for permitting older and larger children to play on the bouncy castle.

This much publicised decision has been successfully appealed by the Perrys, however. The Court of Appeal found it was impossible to preclude all risks that children may injure themselves when playing and that it was quite impractical for parents to keep children under constant supervision, commenting that it would not be in the public interest for the law to impose such a duty upon parents.

It was doubted whether Catherine Perry could have prevented the incident even with constant supervision. While a reasonable parent could foresee that boisterous behaviour might lead to injury, it was not reasonably foreseeable that such injury would be serious, let alone as serious as that sustained by the claimant.