The latest hearing in the much publicised case of Woodland v Maxwell & Another has confirmed the position regarding responsibilities for a school and local authority for a child who suffered serious injury from oxygen deprivation while in a school swimming lesson at her local pool. 

Issues of liability related to the failure of both the swimming teacher and the lifeguard on duty to notice that the 10 year old claimant was in difficulty in the water resulting in a delay in attending to her. The recent hearing determined that both the swimming teacher and the lifeguard were at fault and should have noticed the claimant and acted more quickly. 

This followed an earlier part of the case which went all the way to the UK Supreme Court to determine who would be liable for the claim. The situation was complicated in that the claimant’s school arranged the lessons through an organisation which provided the swimming teacher but it transpired that neither the swimming teacher nor the organisation had insurance cover for such a claim. The lifeguard was insured but the insurer did not make an admission of liability and there were various arguments about the actions and relative responsibilities of the swimming teacher and the lifeguard.  

Due to the lack of insurance cover for the swimming teacher, the claimant had to pursue her local authority (as her school provider) on the basis that the school held a non-delegable duty of care towards its pupils and was, therefore, liable for the negligence of anyone who they used to teach or care for their pupils. After a number of hearings, it was finally determined in 2013 that the non-delegable duty of care did apply in this case and the school or local authority would be liable for any negligence of the swimming teacher. Some very clear guidance was given as to where such a duty arises. 

Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons  Manches LLP, comments: “Having determined that, if the swimming teacher were to be found negligent, the school (and so local authority) would be liable, the recent hearing was to determine whether the swimming teacher/ and or lifeguard were negligent. And the judge found that they were. Given the severity of the injuries and value of the claim, settlement will be some way off, but the resolution of liability and the securing of the claim against two insured parties has both provided the chance for the claimant to get the lifetime support she needs. 

“The judgement has also made the law on non-delegable duties for children, hospital patients and other vulnerable individuals much clearer and will hopefully increase the potential for a claimant to pursue a claim where the individual at fault is uninsured by redirecting the case to an overall body such as the school or local authority which would be insured.”