A recent Inner House decision contains useful discussion about the duties on those supervising children. The pursuer in Anderson v Imrie sought damages after suffering severe injuries at the age of eight while playing at the farm occupied by the defenders. The second defender had been supervising him and her own son and had instructed both boys not to play in certain parts of the farm. She had left the boys unattended for a short time and the pursuer had climbed over a closed gate into an area that he was not supposed to enter, where a heavy gate fell on him.
At first instance the pursuer’s case had been based on the argument that, as occupiers of the farm for the purposes of the Occupiers’ Liability (Scotland) Act 1960, the defenders had breached their duties. Following a proof, Lord Pentland had found the second defender liable, subject to a 25% deduction for contributory negligence.
The second defender appealed, arguing that, essentially, the question for the court had been whether the level of supervision she had exercised had been reasonable in the circumstances, and that, properly considered, the evidence did not support the conclusion that she had failed in her duty to take reasonable care.
In refusing the appeal, the Inner House held that the second defender was liable, but took a different view from Lord Pentland about the essence of the case. Rather than focusing on liability under the 1960 Act, this was grounded in what was termed the “childcare case”. This involved considering whether the second defender had taken reasonable care in looking after the pursuer, and whether a reasonably careful parent would have acted in the same way as she had done, looking at the adequacy of her conduct based on the information that she had at the time. It was noted that there was not a great deal of authority on the law relating to those in charge of children, but that this was potentially of wide importance. Conflicting considerations were significant, as the proper supervision of children had to be weighed against the need to do so while performing other household tasks at the same time.
The standard of reasonable care was also subject to policy considerations: for example, the courts should be careful not to impose an unrealistically strict duty of care on parents and those in loco parentis looking after children.