Supervising swimming lessons - duty of the local authority.Friday 6th January 2012
In many local education authorities it remains part of the physical education curriculum for schoolchildren to be given swimming lessons. Often the solution has been for schools to take their pupils to the local council-run swimming pool to conduct the lessons.
The High Court case below reviewed the extent of duty of care on local authorities when injury is sustained at these premises.
Woodland v The Swimming Teachers' Association, Essex County Council and others  EWHC 2631 (QB)
The claimant was a ten year old child who had attended a swimming lesson arranged by her school at a swimming pool run by Basildon District Council. During the lesson the claimant suffered a head injury which caused severe hypoxic brain damage.
The claimant, through her father, brought a claim in negligence against a number of bodies, including Essex County Council, the local education authority. The claimant alleged that the defendant had failed to act as a reasonable parent would have done.
The Council accepted that it owed a duty to the claimant to take the reasonable care that a reasonable parent would take and to reasonably ensure that any contractors would be able to fulfil their duties. The Council denied any duty to ensure that reasonable care is taken by third parties to the extent that the Council would be responsible for any breach of care ('non-delegable duty of care').
The court agreed with the Council's arguments. Neither the lifeguard on duty nor the people running the swimming lessons were employees of the defendant. The accident did not occur on school premises or under the school’s control. To impose a non-delegable duty of care would involve a considerable expansion of liability beyond the standard of a reasonable parent. The appropriate duty was for the Council to take reasonable care that the contractors it hired had laid down safe and proper systems of work for their lifeguards, which the defendant had done.
Comment: There is a policy dilemma with the contracting out of work which public authorities may have previously performed using direct employed labour. In Australia the courts have recognised that in some circumstances a school authority may owe a duty not to just take reasonable care of a pupil themselves but also to ensure that reasonable care is taken by others. The distinction is that the Australian authorities have arrived at their judgments by looking at the position of the person to whom the duty is owed as opposed to looking at the position of the person owing the duty. To place a non-delegable duty of care upon local education authorities in respect of their pupils, as a policy decision at least, would be unduly burdensome.
Ashfords' Personal Injury Team has extensive experience in all areas of personal injury claims, ranging from accidents on public property or at work to road traffic accidents and clinical negligence. If you have had a claim made against you and would like to discuss your options, please contact Flora Wood, Partner, on 01392 334020.
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