Drowning victim wins compensation from Essex after case gains favour

Annie Woodland, a swimming student, almost drowned more than a decade ago in the Whitmore Junior School in Basildon, Essex. She had suffered severe brain damages due to her near-death experience. Ian Woodland, her father had decided to pursue a negligence claim against the local education authority, the Essex county council and other local authorities for negligence during the plight of their daughter.

Last Wednesday, five justices had allowed her to gain compensation on the grounds that local authorities have a “non-delegable duty of care” during the time of her drowning. The landmark case showed that the county councils, under the national curriculum, must provide students with swimming lessons at a local pool. Even if the contractor teaching the students is responsible, the local authorities are still due their own responsibility.

Woodland’s lawyers pointed out that the school and the educational authorities had committed indirect negligence. The contractor also owes their own duty of care for Annie Woodland. Lord Sumption said that parents entrust their child to a school because it was required and because they have no influence in the schools’ methods of teaching, the school has a duty of care to its students.

Third parties, the contractors, if responsible for Annie Woodland’s drowning, will still make the Essex county council liable for a breach in duty of care.

Ian Woodland and Allison Morris, the parents of Woodland, said that they were greatly joyful with the decision that justice was done for their daughter. They also said the landmark ruling, praised by other justices as a “development of the law”, will help other families in the future. Woodland’s father had pushed the case since 2011 where a high court judge did not push with the case because it was bound to fail. March 2012, a majority ruling of appeal judges backed his views regarding his daughter’s case.

Pannone Lawyer Catherine leech said that the decision had “common sense”. She said that the landmark case contributes highly to improving the services of schools. It was not a way to prevent schools from hiring independent contractors, but it helps them improve and ensure the safety of vulnerable individuals, including students.

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