Setback For Essex Woman In Damages Claim

An Essex woman who nearly drowned during a swimming lesson 11 years ago has suffered a setback in her bid to win £3m damages.

Annie Woodland was a pupil at Whitmore Junior School, Basildon, when she had to be pulled from the water and resuscitated at Gloucester Park pool in July 2000.

Miss Woodland, 21, now has severe learning difficulties and her father Ian has launched a claim for compensation on her behalf against the local education authority, Essex County Council.

Proceedings have also been brought against The Swimming Teachers' Association, Beryl Stotford - who traded as Direct Swimming Services - lifeguard Deborah Maxwell and Basildon District Council, which ran the pool.

At a preliminary hearing, lawyers argued that Essex had a non-delegable duty of care "in the capacity loco parentis''.

They asserted that the authority was vicariously liable for the alleged negligence of both Ms Stotford and Ms Maxwell, and directly liable for failure itself to take reasonable care to ensure that Ms Stotford was an appropriate and competent independent contractor to whom to delegate responsibility for the provision of swimming lessons and life-guarding services.

Essex denied that it was vicariously liable for any want of care on the part of the lifeguard or that the duty was non-delegable as alleged. Now, High Court judge Mr Justice Langstaff, sitting in London, threw out Miss Woodland's claim against Essex on the basis that it was bound to fail.

"This is because I do not accept that any court could reasonably be persuaded on policy grounds to uphold such a duty,'' he said. But he gave permission to appeal against his ruling as it involved an issue of significant interest to schools, parents and pupils.

The judge commented that, although many legal authorities said that a school owed a duty to take such care of a pupil as would a reasonable careful parent, none had gone so far as to hold that a school owed a duty to ensure that reasonable care was taken by others of the child, such that it was responsible for any want of care on their part.

The hearing did not concern Miss Woodland's claims against the other defendants.

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