Duty to Warn Analysed by High Court in Context of Cricket Ball Accident
If signs had to be erected to warn against every conceivable risk faced by users of public open spaces, they would form a veritable forest of their own. The point was powerfully made in a High Court case concerning a walker in an urban park who was struck in the eye by a cricket ball.
The woman was walking along a footpath with a friend when the ball hit her. A judge subsequently upheld her claim against the local authority that managed the park and awarded her almost £17,000 in damages. He found that the council had failed in its duty to put in place signs warning pedestrians that a cricket game, involving use of a hard ball, was in progress on a ground adjoining the path.
Challenging the judge's ruling, the council asserted, amongst other things, that it was keen to minimise signage in the park so far as possible in order to keep the space as clear and de-urbanised as it could be. It also argued that it is common knowledge that sports are played in parks and that it is quite obvious that games of cricket are in progress as you approach them.
Upholding the council's appeal, the Court noted that it was not in dispute that it owed a duty under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 to keep the woman reasonably safe. There were, however, 13 cricketers, presumably adults wearing whites, playing only a short distance away from her and in her full field of vision. The council was thus under no duty to warn of the presence of the cricket pitch or that a game was being played.
The Court acknowledged that hitting a cricket ball out of a ground is all part of the game and is considered desirable by batsmen. That necessarily involves a risk to passers-by, but the Court found that it was so self-evident that warning against it would be superfluous. There was also no basis for imposing a duty on the council to warn that adult cricketers engaged in a serious game would be using a hard ball.
In dismissing the woman's claim, the Court noted evidence that the cricket pitch had been continually played on since at least 1897. The position of the path had also remained unaltered since that date. The park attracted at least 10 million visitors a year, yet a senior parks officer who gave evidence was unaware of any similar accidents having occurred in the park or elsewhere in the council's area.