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Personal injury: Shelbourne -v- Cancer Research UK

Ms Shelbourne worked for Cancer Research UK, the charity, as their Cambridge Research Institute.

She attended the Christmas party as did a Mr Bellik who was a visiting scientist. Mr
Bellik had been drinking. He started physically lifting off the ground, without their
permission, female guests who were dancing but when he did so to Ms Shelbourne, he lost
his balance and she fell suffering severe spinal injury. She brought proceedings against
Cancer Research alleging that it owed her a duty of care that had been breached and also that
the defendant was vicariously liable for the action of Mr Bellik. At first instance the Recorder
found there was a duty of care, but it had not been breached and there was no vicarious
liability. The Claimant appealed with the redoubtable Rob Weir QC as her counsel and
permission from Martin Spencer J.

On appeal, Lane J upheld the first instance decision. C made much of the fact that there was
alcohol at the party and that the risk assessment had not addressed the range of
inappropriate behaviour that might ensue. Further, there were only 2 security guards, who
had various duties and only occasionally passed through the party. Lane J thought differently:
The judgement is a model of clarity and measured observations but at one point (para 97) he
stated: “Although Mr Weir attempted to refute Mr White’s categorisation of the appellant’s
case as “health and safety gone mad” there is some merit in that categorisation, albeit that I
would not associate myself with the precise way that Mr White chose to express it.” He went
on: “The clear thrust of the appellant’s submissions was, indeed, that once it is established a
party or other gathering is to involve the provision of alcohol which can, sometimes, cause
some people to behave in ways that fall to be categorised as inappropriate there needs to be
(a) a written declaration signed by the attendees that they will not behave inappropriately; (b)
a risk assessment encompassing eventualities stemming from all such forms of inappropriate
behaviour; (c ) trained staff (whether or not they are merely volunteering to help at the
event); and (d) special training for those responsible for a risk assessment, covering all
envisaged forms of inappropriate behaviour. As a matter of common sense that cannot, with
respect be right. More to then point the archetypal reasonable person of the early 21st
century would not regard this as a socially appropriate set of requirements to impose upon
the organisers of any Christmas party or other similar social gathering regardless of the
circumstances.”

The case makes useful reading for anybody with a case involving injury at a party or in a club,
but it is likely to be relied upon by Defendants keen to adopt “common sense” in a “health
and safety gone mad” world.

Napier Miles / 23rd May 2019


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