Woman Awarded Compensation for School Swimming Accident

Schools have a duty, as part of the National Curriculum, to provide swimming instruction for their pupils.

A recent case dealt with the question of who was liable for brain damage suffered by a girl when she nearly drowned during a school swimming lesson in 2000.

Annie Woodland was ten years old when she had to be pulled out of a council-owned swimming pool at Gloucester Park, Basildon, and resuscitated. She suffered permanent damage to her brain due to a lack of oxygen. She has been left with memory problems and poor balance, and she easily becomes tired. She is unable to work and does not have the mental capacity to manage her own affairs.

Ms Woodland now lives near Blackpool and she and her partner have a 13-month-old son. In the past, she suffered from depression, but her child has brought her great happiness and she is now determined to move on with her life and make the best of it for his sake.

Acting on her behalf, her parents had commenced a personal injury claim against several of those involved, alleging failure of the duty of care owed to their daughter. However, Essex County Council denied liability on the ground that its duty of care to the pupils had been delegated as the swimming lessons had been contracted out to a commercial third party.

The matter went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that in cases where a requirement of the National Curriculum has been delegated to an outside provider, the local authority has a 'non-delegable duty of care' towards the school's pupils. Schools therefore have a duty to do more than check the competence of the provider. They must also manage and monitor its performance.

The High Court subsequently found that the swimming teachers and the lifeguard overseeing the lesson were in breach of their duty of care towards Ms Woodland.

Compensation of £2 million has now been agreed, with the local authority paying two thirds of the settlement and the lifeguard the balance.