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Why Blake v Galloway is important

In Blake v Galloway, the Court of Appeal established that informal games were to be treated analogously to formal sports games. Courts should ascertain the rules of the game, and then determine the standard of care expected of participants accordingly.

Facts

A group of friends, including the claimant and defendant, began throwing twigs and bark chippings at each, described by the Judge as ‘horseplay’. The claimant, Blake, threw a piece of bark chipping at the defendant, Galloway, hitting him in his lower body. The defendant threw it back at Galloway, but it hit him in the eye. Blake suffered a serious injury as a result.

Claim

Blake brought a claim against Galloway in the tort of negligence (as well as battery). The defendant denied negligence, and raised the defence of volenti non fit injuria.

Issue

Whether the defendant failed to take reasonable care by throwing the piece of bark at the claimant.

Held

The claimant’s case was dismissed. It was held that the defendant was not negligent, and in any event could rely on the defence of volenti.

Reasoning

Dyson LJ gave the leading judgment of the Court, with whom the other justices agreed.

Dyson LJ drew a link between this ‘informal horseplay’ and formal sports or games. Whilst there were no formal rules to this horseplay, Dyson LJ concluded that there was a tacit understanding of the rules of the game and everyone was aware of the risks involved. In this game, he concluded that the, “very nature of the activity [made] it difficult to avoid the risk of physical harm.”

In these circumstances, Dyson LJ required conduct amounting to, “recklessness or a very high degree of carelessness.” This would be the case if a person detracted away from the rules of the game, for example by throwing a stone or deliberately aiming at a person’s head.

The Court concluded that this was not shown here. At most, Galloway had exercised an ‘an error of judgment or lapse of skill’, but this did not amount to ‘recklessness or a very high degree of carelessness.’

Dyson LJ concluded:

This was a most unfortunate accident, but it was just that. Young persons will always want to play vigorous games and indulge in horseplay, and from time to time accidents will occur and injuries will be caused. But, broadly speaking, the victims of such accidents will usually not be able to recover damages unless they can show that the injury has been caused by a failure to take care which amounts to recklessness or a very high degree of carelessness, or that it was caused deliberately (ie with intent to cause harm). For the reasons that I have given, I would allow this appeal and dismiss the claim.

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