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Blog: Who is responsible for a school child at a swimming lesson – teacher or lifeguard?

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Who is responsible for a school child at a swimming lesson – teacher or lifeguard?
Malcolm Johnson | 24 Apr 2015

In July 2000, a 10-year-old schoolgirl, Annie Woodland, went swimming with her classmates at the local pool. Tragically, she got into trouble and began to drown, as a result of which she suffered serious brain damage.

Annie’s lesson was supervised by a swimming teacher and a lifeguard, neither of whom were employed by her school. Annie’s parents brought a claim against them, as well as the school.

At the end of 2013, the UK Supreme Court decided that the school was directly responsible for what happened to its children in a swimming lesson, even though it did not employ the swimming teacher or the lifeguard. 

This was important to Annie because her claim is worth several million pounds, and at least one of the people she sued, was not insured.

Essex County Council owned Annie’s school, and had the means to pay the claim. So too did the lifeguard who had insurance. The swimming teacher had no insurance at all.

The courts now had to decide whether the swimming teacher and the lifeguard were to blame for what actually happened. If they had done nothing wrong, then Annie’s school would not be liable to pay her claim. If, however, they were at fault, then the school would be responsible for the claim.

Annie’s legal team said that the swimming teacher and the lifeguard did not do enough to watch out for her whilst she was in the pool. In January of this year, the High Court agreed. The judge said that Annie had been taking in water for at least 30 seconds. This was not noticed by the swimming teacher, who was apparently teaching her group only a few feet away, or by the lifeguard.

At this point, Essex County Council tried to place some or all of its liability with the lifeguard’s insurance company. It brought a claim against the lifeguard, saying that if it had to pay Annie’s claim, then the lifeguard’s insurance should contribute either all or some of the money.

The court looked at the case again. 

This time, the court said that the lifeguard had a duty to monitor the children, and when it came to a rescue, she was the one who had had the training. However, prime responsibility lay with the swimming teacher in charge of the children. 

The lifeguard would pay one third of the whole claim.

The value of Annie’s claim is still to be assessed by the courts, but it may be settled before it gets to court again. Although the court said that she had made a good recovery from what could have been a fatal accident, she is left with very serious problems. Hopefully this long running case will be over for her soon.

Past blog entries

Effects of a change in the discount rate: what happens when a review is expected? , 16 Dec 2020
Three per cent drop in premiums does not reflect massive insurer savings, 09 Nov 2020
What help is out there for families when someone is injured?, 02 Nov 2020
Blindly heading into the unknown for injured people?, 09 Dec 2019
Lessons in looking after one another , 18 Nov 2019
‘Fake claims’ or ‘fake news’?, 06 Nov 2019
The tide of public opinion is turning against insurers, 15 Oct 2019
Time for a joined-up strategy to prevent medical negligence, 23 Sep 2019

About this blog

Malcolm Johnson

Malcolm Johnson is an associate in the clinical negligence department of Blake Lapthorn Claims in London. He is a Fellow of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, a member of the Law Society's personal injury panel and the secretary of APIL's child injury special interest group. He is one of the authors of "Child Abuse Compensation Claims" published by Jordans and writes the section on children for Jordans' Personal Injury, Practice and Precedents.