Children often participate in school sport activities as part of the curriculum, during study breaks or as elective activities. However, the adolescent body of a school student is not fully developed and with participants of varying age, skill, knowledge and respect for the rules, the risk of injury is ever present.
The NSW Sporting Injuries Committee compiled data for the Sydney Morning Herald indicating hospital emergency treatment of sporting injuries has doubled since 2002 and deaths do occasionally result, two in the last financial year relating to rugby union and futsal (indoor soccer).
Another statistic on the rise is litigated claims arising from sport injuries sustained at school activities, but do the different parties to sporting activities understand the relevant risks and obligations?
Parents should understand the limit of supervision in the prevention of injuries just as children sometimes sustain injuries while in the care of their parents. When a child is injured at school, however, parents may wrongly perceive a much higher absolute obligation on a school to protect a child from all injury. Parents should also be aware that they may have obligations to inform a school about any pre-disposition to injury that their child may have including a heart condition, bone density deficiency or prior injury.
Students should understand there are risks associated with all activities including sport. Physical contact is common in rugby and soccer, environmental conditions are relevant in surfing and skiing, and in the simplest form running can increase the chance and severity of stress, strain or fall injuries. Students have an obligation to take steps for their own care and comply with instructions, however that obligation is unlikely to apply to the full extent as it might in relation to an adult.
Teachers should understand that while responsibility and liability will not automatically follow from all injuries to students, the duty of care to a student cannot be easily reduced, cannot be delegated and in certain circumstances may be increased. The duties of teachers will also be under heavy scrutiny when potential claimants look back from what might be an unlikely but severe injury event and are looking to make a claim.
Educational institutions are not insurance companies and do not guarantee injury prevention or compensation. The relationship between teacher and student does however come with obligations and duties and proactive steps should continue to be taken to ensure those obligations and duties are fulfilled and students are protected from harm to the fullest reasonable extent.