Blackpool woman’s £2m settlement for pool injury

Annie Woodland with her partner Sam Hill and their son Joey.
Annie Woodland with her partner Sam Hill and their son Joey.
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A woman who nearly drowned during a school swimming lesson 16 years ago has been awarded a £2m payout.

Annie Woodland was just 10 years old when she was left fighting for her life and suffered severe brain damage.

She survived, but her parents Alison and Ian launched a legal battle as they were convinced that more should have been done to protect their daughter.

Miss Woodland, who now lives in Blackpool, was pulled from the water at a pool in Basildon, Essex, in July 2000.

The legal case reached the Supreme Court in 2013 and a judge made a landmark ruling that changed the law.

The judgment said Essex County Council owed a duty of care towards Miss Woodland – even though a third party had been contracted to carry out the teaching.

This overturned previous decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal, and means a public authority now has liability in certain
circumstances for the negligence of its independent contractors where children or
vulnerable people are involved.

A High Court trial followed last year, and concluded the lifeguards and swimming teachers responsible for supervising Miss Woodland had breached that duty of care.

In the first case of its kind, the local authority has now agreed to pay two thirds of the £2m settlement, while the lifeguard at the time makes up the rest.

For Annie, now 26, and her family, it is a relief, but bittersweet as they say they have never received a “proper” apology and say no amount of money can make up for the damage done.

“I still get upset, even all these years on,” said Alison, 50, who is also mother to 20-year-old twins, Joe and Tom. “Annie was a happy, confident little girl who absolutely thrived at school. I used to pinch myself sometimes and think ‘how could she be mine?’

“This was never for any financial gain, it was to stop it happening to anyone else, but at least I know now that whatever happens in the future she is going to be safe and secure.”

Miss Woodland still suffers memory problems, fatigue and poor balance and said the hidden nature of her brain injury makes it hard for people to understand.

She lives in Blackpool with her partner Sam Hill and their 13-month-old son, Joey.

“If I didn’t have Joey I would probably be in quite a bad way still,” said Miss Woodland. “I have had years of depression, but I just look at him and I am happy.

“I’ll never get over what happened, but I’ve got to move on with my life now and make the best of it for his sake.”

She is unable to work and lawyers will also handle her finances as she does not have the capacity to manage her own affairs.

The family’s lawyer, Jennifer Maloney, said: “Annie is a brave young woman who has been forced to spend most of her childhood and all of her adult life dealing with the devastating consequences of what happened. She deserves some peace of mind.”

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Essex County Council accepts the judgment of the Honourable Mr Justice Blake.”