In an appeal heard at the end of 2020, the High Court considered whether a London Borough Council was liable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act for an injury caused to a pedestrian by a cricket ball. The cricket ball was hit from a pitch positioned within a public park with no warning signs nearby to alert pedestrians.
On 28 August 2014 the Claimant was walking through Battersea Park when she was hit in the eye by a cricket ball. The path which she was walking on was roughly 8 metres from the boundary of the cricket pitch.
The Claimant brought a claim against the local Borough Council, Wandsworth, who denied liability. The case went to trial on 21 November 2019 and was heard by Mr Recorder Riza QC.
The Recorder found for the Claimant. He concluded that there was a clear possibility that an injury would occur, and that any such injury was likely to be serious, and that Wandsworth should have put signs in place warning passers-by of the danger.
Permission to appeal was granted on 26 March 2020. Among the grounds of appeal were the following:
- That the Recorder was wrong to find that a warning was necessary to discharge Wandsworth’s duty under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957;
- He failed to give adequate weight to the fact that the Claimant knew about the existence of the cricket pitch and had seen players on the boundary;
- He failed to give adequate weight to Wandsworth’s evidence on the period of time for which cricket had been played at the location and the lack of knowledge of any previous injury.
Of particular importance were the statistics provided by Wandsworth’s witness as to the frequency of cricket matches and the lack of previous incidents. There had been cricket pitches in the same place since 1897 and Wandsworth’s witnesses were not aware of any injuries occurring since at least 1989.
Ultimately, the appeal Judge found that the Claimant should have been aware of the potential risks of walking near a cricket pitch, having seen that cricket players were on the pitch. The Judge did not accept the Claimant’s contention that she assumed that cricket was to be played with a soft ball in a public place. This part of the claim was not helped by the fact that she was in fact also a member of the MCC.
This case is a useful and welcome reminder that warning signs are not usually required in those scenarios when the risk is remote, or is already obvious to a Claimant. Had the decision stood, the obligation to provide signage could have extended significantly across the public sector in general.