Two potential landmark cases are troubling the aquatic industries in the U.S and U.K and may have some significant ramifications for the future of pool lifeguarding and supervision structures.
Connecticut – USA
Following the non-fatal drowning of a 5-year-old boy at a private fitness club pool in Stamford Connecticut, 23 year old lifeguard Zachary Stein is facing charges of first-degree reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a minor.
The case comes after video footage shows the young boy was submerged for over 3 minutes in a small pool before Stein noticed and took action. He removed him from the pool and initiated successful CPR with the help of other staff, who were supervising other pools.
Interestingly, the footage shows Stein appearing to monitor the 6-8 people using the pool, he just didn’t notice the child beneath the surface. There was no evidence that distraction or intoxication was an issue for the lifeguard, who had 5 years experience.
Dr Tom Griffiths said that this isn’t unheard of and refers to the “complex quadriples of lifeguards blindness” combing, i) external distrations, ii) internal thoughts / noise, iii) physical conditions of the pool and iv) emotions of denial and disbelief. In short Griffith suggests that “Lifeguards may see the victim, but their brains do not allow them to see such a tragic event.”
The American Lifeguard Asociation state this is the first time a lifeguard has been criminally charged for this type of incident. Stein has resigned from his role and pled not guilty in the Superior Court. There appears to be no reference to the whereabouts of the parents / guardians in any of the various news reports.
Essex – England
16 years after a non-fatal drowning in a school swimming lesson at a Council owned public pool, a victim has been awarded £2,000,000 in compensation.
Annie Woodland survived the incident but suffered severe brain damage as a result.
The Supreme Court deemed that the Council owed a “non-delegable duty of care” despite the lessons being conducted by a third party. It advised that the duty of care was breached by both the lifeguard and the swimming teachers.
As is often the case the Council was ordered to pay the majority of the compensation which in this instance was two-thirds (just over £1,320,000). What is unusual is that the lifeguard was forced to make up the final third (just over £660,000).
Slater and Gordon represented Miss Woodland and successfully argued that the Council owed a duty of care “in the capacity loco parentis” (in the place of a parent). It was subsequently argued the swimming teacher and lifeguard were negligent after failing to notice her getting into difficulty.