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Background

Charlene conducts yoga classes at the Melany School of Arts building.  This building was constructed as a dance hall for US service men in 1943.  It is of timber construction with a highly polished hardwood floor.  Charlene is part time yoga instructor. She conducts one class on Tuesday nights and one class on Thursday nights.  Although Charlene holds a Certificate IV in Yoga Instruction from the Australian Yoga Institute, her regular job is as a physical education teacher at a local high school. Charlene’s operates as a sole trader and she hires the hall in her own name. She has no insurance.

Yoga is a physical discipline that involves stretching muscles and holding complex postures. Charlene’s classes are very popular and well attended. Charlene has 25 students in her Tuesday night class and an equal number of different students on Thursday night.  Each student pays an upfront fee to Charlene at the beginning of the course to cover tuition and all associated costs. Charlene asks students to sign a consent form when they start in which they consent to her instruction and disclose any pre existing illness or injuries.  The consent form makes no reference to exclusion of liability for negligence.  

Charlene limited the numbers of students because the hall is physically too small to accommodate larger groups and she has found, over the last three years of her operation, that larger groups are too difficult to effectively supervise.  Initially, Charlene conducted classes of 35.  However, she found that she was not able to effectively supervise the students and after a series of minor sprains and injuries to various students, she limited class numbers to 25.  In the 18 months since she took that action, there have been no problems.  Charlene conducts each class alone and without assistance.  

Charlene provides hot herbal tea and hot towels to students before and after the class on each night.  The tea is heated in a large urn on a table against the sidewall of the hall adjacent to the exercise floor.  The towels are heated in a steamer on the table next to the urn.

From past experience, Charlene recognises that the hall’s floor is far too slippery to effectively perform yoga upon.  She found that the provision of a temporary floor covering was too inconvenient because she had to lay and remove the covering before and after every class so that the space could be available to other hirers of the hall.  Charlene had originally purchased several large rolls of vinyl flooring to use but she found using the vinyl added two hours to her time spent at each class.  To overcome this problem, Charlene purchased a large number of cheap imported socks with rippled rubber soles.  She has found that when students use the socks they don’t slip and don’t hurt themselves. Charlene distributes the socks to each student before each class begins and collects them at the end of class to be used the following week.

Skye has attended Charlene’s Thursday night class since this year’s classes began. Skye is very tall and thin and not particularly well coordinated.  She spoke to Charlene after class one evening about her tendency to drop things and to walk into walls and her hope that yoga would help her co-ordination.

Charlene was forced to cancel her Tuesday night class a month ago because of parent teacher night commitments at her high school.  Some of the Tuesday night class were disappointed and even asked for a partial refund of their tuition fees.  Charlene responded by offering any Tuesday night student a replacement class on the next Thursday night at no extra cost.

The following Thursday night 20 Tuesday night students attended the Thursday class.  The total number of students then numbered 45.  The floor was very crowded.  Charlene prepared the tea and towels as usual.  She also issued each student with their socks with an instruction that they must wear them.  Charlene never completely explained the reason for the requirement to wear the socks but stressed that each student must wear them while on the floor.

Skye arrived a few minutes late because she had spent a few hours at an after work party where she consumed three glasses of wine.  While the class had not yet begun, she was surprised to see so many participants.  Skye could not occupy her usual position at the front of the class.  Instead, she found a small space very close to the tea and towel table.  

Skye decided not wear the socks provided because they were orange and she thought the colour clashed with her hot pink outfit.  Skye commenced the class barefoot.  She was the only student not to wear socks.  While performing the first posture, Sky’s left foot skidded into the leg of the table, toppling the urn and steamer onto her body.  The hot tea, towels and appliances severely scolded her skin.  

Skye was hospitalised for two weeks and requires ongoing treatment.  She has no sick leave as she works casually as a retail shop attendant. She will not be able to work for eight weeks.  Charlene visited Skye in hospital and apologised to her profusely. Skye thinks that she will take some ‘time off’ work, head to Byron Bay when she feels better and look for work around Christmas. She hopes to get a good pay out in an action against Charlene.

Advise Skye in relation to any action she may have in relation to the law of Negligence.   

Background

The current case scenario shows that the concept of tort and negligence is applicable. To apply the legal principles and concepts in to the case scenario it is necessary to understand the case. From the case it can be understood that there is a lady named Charlene who conducts yoga class within the premises of Melany School of Arts. From the case it is known that earlier the building served the purpose of a dance hall for the military personnel of US. It is also known that she was not a full time instructor. The building was made of timber. It had a polished floor of hardwood. She conducted her classes on Tuesday nights and Thursday nights. On both the classes different set of students used to attend. This was her part time job. Her regular full time job was that of a physical education teacher in a high school in her vicinity. Charlene used to handle the part time classes all by herself. She had hired the hall in her name and did not insure herself. From the case it is known that her batch strength for each of the classes was 25. She used to take her tuition fees in advance. Her tuition fees covered all ancillary expenses. She used make her students sign a consent form at the beginning of the course. The consent form mentions the fact that the students have agreed to her instructions and the consent form also speaks of the possible injuries and illnesses involved. It is mentioned here that the consent form did not mention that Charlene excluded herself from any liability arising out of negligence.

From the case it is known that the reason of conducting the classes with a maximum strength of 25 is due to the limited capacity of the hall. Moreover, conducting classes with high strengths involved problems in supervising. She had arranged for facilities like herbal tea and hot towels which were placed at the sidewall of a hall beside the floor for exercise. She had learnt from her earlier expenses that the floor of the hall was too slippery for conducting the yoga class in a proper manner. She saw that applying temporary coverings was extremely problematic as it would take a lot of time of her yoga class. She used to cover the floor with rolls made of vinyl but that proved to be time consuming. To avoid this issue, she had purchased several inexpensive socks with rough rubber soles. These socks would ensure that the students would not slip on the floor and hurt themselves. It has been said in the case that one of the Tuesday’s class had to be cancelled by Charlene as she had commitments in her school pertaining to parent teacher meeting. Some of the students were not happy and even considered for a partial repayment of fees. To compensate the situation, Charlene offered to conduct the same class with other students on the next Thursday. It has been seen that the class was very overcrowded on Thursday. One of the students, Skye reached the class late in an inebriated state. She had attended a party prior to the class where she consumed wine. She did not find space in the floor so she occupied a space close to the facility where the tea and towels were kept. She also ignored to wear the socks that were provided due to her personal wish. During the initial posture, her left foot slipped and as a result the tea urn and the hot towel steamer fell on her body. This caused burns on her skin. She had to spend time in a hospital resulting in monetary loss and loss of her job.

Facilities provided

Thus it is a clear case of negligence and Skye has to prove certain points and factors before the court to prove that Charlene was negligent and she owed damages to her. The first aspect that has to be proved before the court is that Charlene had a duty to take reasonable care towards Skye. When referring to duty of care, it is legal duty or obligation to not to cause injury or harm. In such cases the harm should be foreseeable. It is also important that there is a relation of proximity or closeness between the individual committing the tort and the person suffering due the effects of the tort. In the present case there was a relation of teacher and a student. There is legislation present in Australia known as the Civil Liability Act 1936 (SA) which deals with assessment of negligence of people and the duty or liability which they have to face due their negligent conduct. The most relevant case that incorporated the concept of duty of care is Donoghue v Stevenson (1932) AC 562. This particular case established rules pertaining to tort of negligence. After this case, duty was put on the manufacturers to exercise their duty to take care for their customers. In the present case, the victim and her friend went to a cafe where the friend ordered a ginger beer. It was consumed by the victim. When she sipped into the drink she discovered a decomposed snail at the bottom of the bottle. This caused great mental shock to her and she suffered from gastric problems. The court found the defendant guilty of failing to exercise duty of care and liable to pay damages to the victim. The defendant claimed that there were no precedents to prove such occurrences and claims. Moreover they claimed that there was no relation between the defendant and Donoghue, the victim.

However Lord Atkin concluded that there was a relation of consumer and manufacturer in this case. The manufacturer had a duty of care towards his end consumers for the products he sold. He has to ensure that no harm is caused to the consumers by consuming his products. Thus this case has become a precedent and acts as a legal protection for consumers against faulty and contaminated products. The present case also established an important legal principle known as the Neighbour principle. This particular principle made the concept of tort of negligence beyond the relation of the concerned party and the tort feasor. The defendant had claimed earlier that the suit could only be filed by the friend of the victim and not by the victim. The judge in this case concluded that the manufacturer should have taken reasonable care to ensure that such acts or omissions are avoided which could be foreseen to harm or cause injury to the neighbour. Donoghue could be considered as a neighbour since she was closely connected with the product that was manufactured by the defendant. The defendant could have avoided the liability by ensuring that the quality of the product was maintained.

In the present case Skye also has to prove that Charlene had breached her duty to take care. She has to prove that in spite knowing the fact that the hall could not accommodate a large number of people, Charlene took such a risk. It was breach of the standard of care that Charlene was ought to exercise with respect to her students. Moreover she has to prove before the court that as a result of Charlene failing to exercise her duty to take care, Skye suffered from injuries. She has the right to claim for general damages for the injuries sustained by her. Moreover she can also claim for special damages for the loss of livelihood and the mental agony caused to her as a result of the injury sustained.

However it has to be kept in mind by Skye that Charlene has several points for her defence. It is a known fact that Charlene had made almost all possible arrangements to make sure that no harm is caused to the students due to the slipperiness of the floor and the exercise routine. She had also made the students sign a consent form informing them of the possible hazards and injuries that could take place as a result of the yoga class. Charlene has the right to claim contributory negligence on the part of Skye. Skye was provided with a pair of socks which acted as a safety from the slippery floor. She failed to follow the instructions and took a risk by not wearing them. Charlene can also prove before the court that Skye had come to the classes in a drunken state. This had increased the chances of the imminent injury that she had suffered. However in the present case, a suit may be filed by Skye against Charlene as she had not excluded herself from the liability of negligence.

Anson, W.R. et al, Anson's Law Of Contract (Oxford University Press, 1st ed, 2010)

Bailey, I. and M. Bell, Construction Law In Australia (Thomson Reuters, 3rd ed, 2012)

Barker, K. et al, The Law Of Torts In Australia (Oxford University Press, 5th ed, 2012)

Chamallas, M. and J.B. Wriggins, The Measure Of Injury: Race, Gender, And Tort Law (NYU Press, 1st ed, 2010)

Cornford, T., Towards A Public Law Of Tort (Routledge, 1st ed, 2016)

Deakin, S.F., A. Johnston and B. Markesinis, Markesinis And Deakin's Tort Law (Oxford University Press, 1st ed, 2012)

Patterson, D., A Companion To Philosophy Of Law And Legal Theory (John Wiley & Sons, 2nd ed, 2010)

Steele, J., Tort Law: Text, Cases, And Materials (OUP, 2nd ed, 2010)

Van Dam, C, European Tort Law (OUP, 1st ed, 2013)

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