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Girl Brain Damaged In School Swimming Lesson Wins Right To Sue For £3 Million

14/08/2014 16:54 | Updated 22 May 2015

Swimming pool

A woman who suffered severe brain damage after she nearly drowned during a school swimming lesson when she was 10 years old has won the right to sue for £3 million.

Thirteen years ago, Annie Woodland was a pupil at Whitmore Junior School in Basildon, Essex, when she was pulled from Gloucester Park pool and resuscitated.

She suffered severe brain damage, cannot look after her own affairs and now lives with her family in Blackpool.

Her father Ian launched a claim for compensation on her behalf against the local education authority, Essex County Council, and other parties, which had been thrown out in a series of lower court rulings.

Now, Supreme Court justices in London unanimously allowed her appeal against those findings, meaning that there will be a High Court hearing to determine whether or not she was the victim of negligence.

The five justices said the local authority owed a 'non-delegable duty of care', overturning previous rulings.

"It is fair, just and reasonable to impose such duties," the ruling states.

"It is consistent with the long-standing policy of the law to protect those who are inherently vulnerable and subject to a significant degree of control.

"It is wholly reasonable that a school should be answerable for the performance of part of its own educational function.

"Parents are required by law to entrust their child to a school and have no knowledge or influence over the arrangements that the school may make to delegate specialised functions, or the competence of the delegates."

Lawyers acting for Ms Woodland said before the ruling that the court's decision was 'anxiously anticipated by parents and local education authorities alike'.

The county council is obliged under the national curriculum to provide its pupils with swimming lessons and it organised lessons at a pool owned by Basildon Council.

The lessons were contracted out. Lord Sumption said yesterday that the appeal arose out of a 'tragic incident' when Ms Woodland was 10.

One of the allegations is that her injuries were due to the negligence of a swimming teacher and a lifeguard, neither of whom were employed by the education authority.

Mr Woodland said: "Up to this ruling we have only seen injustice."

And he asked: "How could the school not be responsible for our daughter during a national curriculum lesson?"

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