Sladen Snippet - Coronial finding into drowning of school boy

On 27 October 2014 the Coroner’s Court of Victoria delivered its finding into the inquest on the death of Kyle Vassil.  The deceased was a 12 year old student who, on day one of a school camp, drowned in a dam a few meters from shore. Kyle was a competent swimmer who was swimming with other class members in the presence of supervising teachers and young camp leaders when he drowned.  The circumstances surrounding the death were tragic and no doubt traumatic for all persons involved.  The purpose of the Coronial investigation was to ascertain, if possible, the cause of death and the circumstances in which the death occurred.

The Coroner made a number of comments connected with the death.  It was noted that the dam water was extremely dirty and cold, and when the rescue commenced the visibility under the water was negligible.  The evidence established that no consideration was given to the crisis management issue by the school or by camp management before the incident under examination.  It was also commented that a number of teaching staff had been given little instruction in regard to water safety and supervision of the swimming activity, or how to properly manage an emergency response.

The investigation highlighted the fact that the tragedy could have been averted had appropriate emergency responses been in place. It is important for schools to plan not only for the prevention of injury or death, but also how to deal with the immediate aftermath of an incident.  The Coroner recommended that the Victorian Registration and Quality Authority consider making compliance with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development protocol, in respect of swimming and water-based activities, a condition of registration in respect of all schools in Victoria.  It was also recommended that the school in question purchase a defibrillator or defibrillators and obtain instruction as to their use.

The clear take-home message from this case is that every school should review the findings of the Coroner and ensure their school has adequate systems in place to prevent the same situation arising.  Coronial inquests and findings provide insightful guidance and should be used as part of the risk management process of schools in reviewing annually their own practices and processes.

For further information on this inquest or any risk management issues with schools in Victoria, please contact:

Leneen Forde
Sladen Legal
03 9611 0142