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Swimming Accident Damages Awarded Ten Years Later

Girl swimming
26th May 2015

At an appeal court hearing, a teacher, a lifeguard and a London council were all held to be accountable for failing to provide a ‘duty of care’ to a ten year old girl who almost drowned during a swimming lesson.

During the swimming lesson at a public baths ten year earlier, the junior school pupil got into breathing difficulties in the water, which was not noticed by either the teacher or the lifeguard for more than thirty seconds. As a result of the  lack of oxygen the young girl suffered a heart attack and a serious brain injury.

At the original hearing, the Supreme Court judged that the liability of the local authority would be “discontinued” because the claimant could sue both the teacher and the lifeguard - who were hired by the school - for failing to exercise a ‘duty of care’ owed to the child. However, the teacher and the school did not accept that the accident was caused by their failure to properly supervise the swimming class.

Council obligation

The local council then sought 100 per cent protection against its insurance liability to the child from the lifeguard, saying instead, that the lifeguard’s contribution should be 50 per cent. Following a ten year battle, the appeal judge found the standard of care of both the teacher in charge of the swimming group and the lifeguard fell below that which was “reasonably to be expected.”

Despite not being directly involved, the council was also held liable for negligence because they had an obligation to ensure the safety of “vulnerable” children before delegating responsibility to a third party - the school teacher and life guard - who were negligent in the exercise of a delegated function. The Court also said that the claimant had no control over the council’s performance of that obligation.