UK Peanut Butter and the litigious age


England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland

Peanut butter update…

Not everyone’s a Fruit and Nutcase: We now live in a litigious age where all risk must be eliminated and ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’, says RICHARD LITTLEJOHN

For the past week I’ve been putting the finishing touches to a book about growing up in the Fifties and Sixties. A couple of days ago, I was recalling the rough and tumble of the school playground.

Half the time, the first-aid room looked like Emergency Ward 10. Twisted ankles, sprained wrists, scuffed knees, split lips, black eyes, scraped elbows, the odd fracture. These were all occupational hazards.

Once the nurse had carried out some rudimentary running repairs, it was straight back outside to continue whichever hazardous activity had caused the damage in the first place.

Barely a week went by without me limping home from school with a blood-spattered handkerchief wrapped round my leg or a sticking plaster on my forehead. You try slide-tackling on concrete without getting hurt.

According to my mum, I was always in the wars. She should have taken out shares in Elastoplast. But she didn’t blame the school. Boys will be boys. My mother would never have dreamed of suing the local education authority for negligence.

Cuts and bruises and the occasional visit to casualty were part of the currency of childhood. I still bear the scar of a conker-related penknife incident on my left knuckle.

How times change. We now live in a litigious age where all risk must be eliminated and ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’. Nine-year-old Lewis Pierce cut his thumb and damaged a tendon after a bust-up with his seven-year-old brother George in the playground at their primary school in West Sussex.

It started when George sprayed his big brother with a jet of water from a newly installed drinking fountain. Lewis lashed out, but George ducked and Lewis hit the fountain instead.

His damaged tendon was patched up in hospital and he was left with a one-inch scar. Even though Lewis was ‘completely unconcerned’ by his self-inflicted misfortune, his mother Annette had other ideas.

No doubt inspired by those spiv Blame Direct law firms who tout for business on daytime TV, promising free foreign holidays and new cars in exchange for minor ‘slip and slide’ accidents, Mrs Pierce decided that there might be a nice little drink in her son’s injury.

She sued West Sussex Council for damages, claiming breach of duty and negligence. Her lawyers alleged that the school had not carried out a proper risk assessment before installing the drinking fountain.

A court in Brighton upheld the claim and awarded ?3,215 in com-pen-say-shun. If the verdict had been allowed to stand, every school in Britain would have had to remove drinking fountains from their playgrounds or open themselves to the possibility of thousands of opportunist claims for damages.

West Sussex appealed, maintaining that schools could never be completely safe. The council’s lawyer said: ‘Any part of the premises, for example the corner of a brick wall, could be perceived as sufficiently sharp as to cause a laceration if punched.’

In a welcome outbreak of sanity, the judge agreed to uphold the appeal. Lady Justice Sharp said schools obviously had to take reasonable steps to ensure pupils’ safety ‘bearing in mind that children are inclined to lark around’.

But she said that they were not under a duty to safeguard children in all circumstances, adding: ‘The law would part company with common sense if that were the case.’ And she awarded all legal costs of the original hearing and the appeal against Mrs Pierce. The amount hasn’t been revealed, but with any luck, this will deter other parents from trying it on in future.

Unfortunately, the law parted company with common sense years ago, when ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements were introduced, sparking an avalanche of unwarranted compensation claims.

Far too many greedy chancers have been encouraged to believe that they are entitled to a bumper pay-out for the most trivial accidents at no potential cost to themselves, just so long as they can find someone to blame.

This column has made a good living monstering the elf’n’safety and com-pen-say-shun culture. Much of it is down to over-cautious insurance firms terrified of being sued and hiking premiums accordingly. If any activity carries the slightest risk, far easier to ban it.

In another development this week, a private school in London has asked parents to stop giving their children peanut butter, or cereal containing nuts, for breakfast for fear it could spark an allergic reaction in other pupils.

Many schools have already banned nut products from lunchboxes. But this is the first time parents have been told what their kids can eat for breakfast before they go to school.

Look, I know that some people can experience serious reactions to nuts. But I do find it suspicious that the number of sufferers from peanut allergies is alleged to have doubled over the past decade.

Is it seriously being suggested that children will go into anaphylactic shock because they smell peanut butter on their classmates’ breath?

My guess is that this diktat will have been forced on the school by its insurance company, in the same way that airlines have been forced to stop serving packets of salted cashews just in case an ‘allergic’ passenger in cattle class slaps in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for attempted murder.

If my old school had had to face all this madness in the Sixties, they wouldn’t only have had to ban us from playing football in the playground, they’d have had to stop us bringing Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut onto the premises, too.


Originally written By: RICHARD LITTLEJOHN

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