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Woodland v Essex CC [2013] UKSC 66

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 28/07/2023 15:33

Judgement for the case Woodland v Essex CC

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Tort Law Notes

Tort Law

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  • Generally, a party is not held liable for the negligent actions of an independent contractor unless the party's selection of the contractor was negligent itself.
  • However, non-delegable duties can arise in situations that possess specific characteristics, such as (1) the claimant being a patient, child, or otherwise vulnerable and dependent on the defendant's protection against the risk of harm, and (2) there is a pre-existing relationship between the claimant and the defendant that involves the defendant having actual custody, charge, or care of the claimant.
  • From this relationship, it must be reasonable to attribute to the defendant a positive duty to safeguard the claimant from harm in the execution of those responsibilities.


  • The appellant, a ten-year-old student, suffered a serious hypoxic brain injury during a school swimming lesson at Gloucester Park swimming pool. The swimming lesson was conducted during normal school hours as part of the national curriculum, and the respondent education authority was responsible for the school.
  • The lesson was led by a swimming teacher, Ms Burlinson, and a lifeguard, Ms Maxwell, who were both provided by Beryl Stopford (trading as Direct Swimming Services) under a contract with the respondent education authority.
  • The appellant alleges that both Ms Burlinson and Ms Maxwell negligently failed to notice that she was in distress in the water, resulting in her injury.


  • This decision highlights the long-standing legal policy of safeguarding vulnerable individuals subject to a considerable degree of control. This duty is relevant in light of the increased outsourcing of educational and supervisory functions, effectively replacing the responsibilities that schools previously held when performed by their own staff.
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