A girl who almost drowned during a school swimming lesson has scored a landmark victory in her fight for multi-million-pound damages.
A top judge ruled that Annie Woodland, from Bispham, was let down by a swimming teacher and a lifeguard during the incident at Basildon’s Gloucester Park Swimming Pool when she was 10-years-old.
Ms Woodland, now 24, suffered severe brain damage, resulting in her needing care for the rest of her life.
Her father, Ian, sued Essex County Council over the July 2000 tragedy on her behalf.
Her case almost ended in defeat after judges ruled that a victory for her against the council would risk a ‘chilling effect’ on the willingness of schools to take pupils on educational trips.
However, after the Supreme Court reversed that decision in 2013, her case was given another hearing.
Ms Woodland is now in line for seven-figure damages after Mr Justice Blake ruled that the lifeguard, Debbie Maxwell, and swimming teacher, Paula Burlinson, should have noticed she was drowning sooner than they did.
The judge concluded Essex County Council was liable for their negligence, although neither woman was employed directly by the council, but by contractor, Direct Swimming Services.
Mr Justice Blake said Annie was in difficulty for longer than 30 seconds before she was spotted and pulled to safety by Ms Burlinson.
He said: “The stark fact is that this was not noticed by Ms Burlinson, who was apparently teaching her group only a few feet away, or by Ms Maxwell who was on lifeguard duty that day.”
He said Ms Burlinson’s failure to notice Annie in distress “fell far below the standard of care reasonably to be expected of a teacher”.
Finding that Ms Maxwell was also negligent, he said that, while she was considerably further away from Annie, the lifeguard was there to keep an eye on all pool users and that she didn’t notice immediately when Ms Burlinson shouted for help.
Ruling in Annie’s favour, the judge added: “I find both Debbie Maxwell and Paula Burlinson were negligent and, as a consequence, the council is liable for their negligence.
“The claimant therefore succeeds on this trial of liability.”
The amount of compensation payout will be assessed at a later date.