The case: A father, Ler Choon Siong, 54, is suing Sport Singapore, swimming coach Yeo Chwee Chuan, as well as two lifeguards, Firdaus Rajatmarican and Law Kum Wah.
The man’s six-year-old daughter drowned in the teaching pool of Kallang Basin Swimming Complex (KBSC) in 2017.
Compensation sought exceeds S$250,000: Civil lawsuits filed in the High Court are for claims exceeding S$250,000.
The compensation sought by the Ler family from the four defendants is for the medical and related expenses, as well as damages for future allowances for the parents when the girl turned 21, had she survived.
If any liability is established, the quantum payable by the defendants will be assessed by the court.
Going to trial: All four defendants are contesting the claims.
The trial is expected to take place in June.
What happened: On Dec. 20, 2017, at about 7.15pm, the child, Sherlyn Ler, was found floating on her back and unconscious at the teaching pool of Kallang Basin Swimming Complex (KBSC).
She was then attending a swimming class under a coach.
The lifeguard, Law, and the swimming coach extracted the child from the pool.
Efforts were made to revive her and she was taken to hospital.
The child died 20 days later on Jan. 9, 2018, at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Sherlyn died from a lack of oxygen and blood flowing to the brain.
The circumstances: Sherlyn was in the 43m by 23m teaching pool that had a water depth of between 0.8m and 1m.
She was 1.11m tall.
The pool is located separately from the 50m-long main swimming pool.
What state coroner ruled: State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam, in an April 2019 coroner’s inquiry, ruled the death of the girl a tragic misadventure.
But she rapped the lifeguards and the swimming coach in her findings.
The inquiry heard that the girl did not know how to float or swim independently without support but was left to fend for herself with a swimming board for at least four minutes.
All parties allegedly distracted: The instructor, Yeo, had led the girl to the pool’s mid-point during her 7pm lesson.
He then allowed the girl to swim to the edge.
He turned away to focus on his other students, aged six to eight years old.
The victim was part of a group of five students.
There were two lifeguards near the teaching pool, but one was busy on his mobile phone, while the other was arranging chairs.
The state coroner said: “The lifeguard should not be distracted by the use of his personal devices or idle chit-chat. He should never leave his post unguarded.”
“Drowning is known to occur quickly and quietly between 20 and 60 seconds.”
They had left the pool unattended for at least four minutes, it was found.
Kamala also labelled Yeo’s class formation as “poor”.
“At several points in time, more than one student was out of his line of sight… Ideally, the child, especially one who is not an independent swimmer, should be within arm’s reach,” the state coroner added.
Girl’s mother was also at the swimming complex: The state coroner also found that the girl’s mother sat at a platform near the swimming pool to keep a lookout for her daughter, but was noted to check her phone or speak to other people at intervals.
Counterargument: The four defendants have alleged that the girl’s mother should also be held contributorily negligent for the incident as she was present at the site at the time.
At that time, three lifeguards were deployed at KBSC on the day of the incident.
There was no pool guardian deployed to the wading pool.
Sport Singapore and the two lifeguards dispute the lawsuit in defence papers jointly filed.
The three defendants pointed out that the coach Yeo is not an employee of Sport Singapore and was merely a visitor granted a usage permit to conduct swimming classes at KBSC.
Sport Singapore does not owe any duty of care to supervise swimming coaches who conduct swimming classes there.
The defence also countered that the lifeguards kept reasonable and adequate surveillance.
One of the lifeguards, Law, who spotted Sherlyn floating in a supine position in the pool, promptly alerted the coach Yeo, who was in the pool.
Law denied that he was alerted to Sherlyn’s difficulties by a group of children.
Law had gone into the water to to help the victim.
Yeo, in separate defence papers filed, said he noticed the lifeguard Law looking in his direction.
Yeo, who was in the water, turned and saw Sherlyn floating face up in the pool with some children surrounding her.
He swam towards her.
Together with Law, they brought Sherlyn out of the pool.
Yeo said he could not have reasonably foreseen the near-drowning.
This was so as there were no signs before he noticed her floating that she faced difficulties in her swimming lessons.
The coach also claimed that Sherlyn’s mother caused or contributed to the drowning as she was also present and had been supervising the girl.
Plaintiff acknowledges counterargument: The lawyer acting for the Ler family has acknowledged the defendant’s allegations that the mother should also be held responsible.
However, the lawyer for the plaintiff noted that parents enrol their children to swimming lessons under the guidance of certified instructors, and are “paying for their expertise”.
There is a certain implicit trust that the parents place in the instructors,
Aftermath of drowning: Yeo’s coaching licence was suspended by Sport Singapore following the drowning.
The two lifeguards, Firdaus Rajatmarican and Law Kum Wah, were no longer lifeguards as of April 2019.