Just a day before the trial of a lawsuit against Sport Singapore (SportSG) over the death of a six-year-old is slated to begin in the High Court, it was reported that the girl’s parents have reached a settlement with SportSG and three other defendants.
All parties reached came to the said agreement following a day-long closed-door mediation session last month.
The Straits Times on Monday (28 June) reported a SportSG spokesman as saying last week that SportSG has agreed with the girl’s parents to keep the details of the settlement confidential.
The lawsuit in question concerns circumstances that led to the death of Sherlyn Ler, who was found floating on her back and unconscious at the teaching pool of Kallang Basin Swimming Complex (KBSC) on 20 Dec 2017 at around 7.15 pm.
Her instructor Yeo Chwee Chuan and lifeguard Law Kum Wah extracted Sherlyn from the pool, which is separate from the main swimming pool.
Following efforts to revive her, she was taken to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam, in an inquiry in 2019, found that Sherlyn had likely “encountered difficulty when she was left to swim alone in the middle of the teaching pool”, which “went undetected by both the swimming coach and the lifeguards deployed”.
“She was only subsequently discovered in an unresponsive state by a group of children using the pool,” said the coroner’s report.
Mr Yeo was said to assist her till the pool’s mid-point during her 7 pm lesson before allowing her to swim to the edge independently.
However, he moved away and gave his attention to his other students, aged six and eight years old.
It was revealed via CCTV footage that the two lifeguards — Mr Law and Mr Firdaus Rajatmarican — who were near the teaching pool, one of them was engrossed in his phone while the other spent time arranging chairs.
Sherlyn was left to fend on her own for at least four minutes as she swam using a swimming board. It was noted that at the time, Sherlyn did not know how to float or swim independently without support.
State Coroner Kamala said in her report in 2019: “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.”
She also condemned Mr Yeo’s lesson management, noting his class formation was “poor”.
Had the lawsuit made it to trial in the High Court, the question of whether a parent can be partly blamed for alleged inadequate supervision of Sherlyn at the swimming pool, leading to her death, would have been considered.
Acting for SportSG and the two lifeguards, WhiteFern’s managing director, Mr K. Anparasan pointed out that Mr Yeo is not an employee of SportSG and was merely a visitor who was granted a usage permit to carry out swimming lessons at KBSC.
Thus, SportSG is not obliged to fulfil any duty of care to monitor swimming coaches who conduct such classes at KBSC, he added, according to defence papers filed before the case reached a settlement in mediation.
ST quoted Sherlyn’s father, Mr Ler Choon Siong, 54, as saying last week that it was “difficult” for him and his wife to meet the swimming instructor and the representative from SportsSG for the very reason that they had attempted to “pin some blame on my wife” for what had happened to Sherlyn.
“We also did not expect the day-long mediation to end after midnight,” Mr Ler added, while also stating that he and his wife were grateful the matter has been settled.
“We have achieved some closure now and hope and pray lessons are learnt from Sherlyn’s death,” he said, adding that he and his wife will urge the authorities to review and explore “possible improvements to the training, licensing and insurability of coaches”.
Such a review should also be conducted on “the operations, running and management of swimming pools, lifeguards and lifesaving equipment in all public swimming pools in the country”, Mr Ler added.
Singapore People’s Party’s Jose Raymond, formerly vice-president of partnerships of Singapore Swimming Association, said in April 2019 that suspending the instructor’s coaching licenses and disallowing the two individuals to no longer be lifeguards is “scant consolation for the family who lost a child”.
“Sport Singapore should also explain to the public what it has done to improve the work attitude of its lifeguards at all its swimming complex, and should also share if this lackadaisical attitude (one was arranging chairs while the other was on his mobile device) by the two lifeguards on duty on that fateful day is isolated or ingrained,” he added in a Facebook post.
Mr Raymond also, at the time, urged SportSG to disclose the measures it was taking to “enhance the early detection of near-drowning incidents at all pools”.
“Safety is everyone’s responsibility, but there is a responsibility of the public agency in ensuring that its facilities are safe and with the right people in charge in their various roles,” he wrote.