£1.4m injury payout may shut Bondi Beach

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The Independent Online

Bondi Beach in Sydney is under threat of closure and Australia's iconic lifeguard service is in jeopardy because a swimmer paralysed at the surfing resort won a huge damages claim.

Guy Swain, 28, who admitted taking ecstasy the night before and a bottle of beer on the day, hit his head on a sandbar in November 1997. He is now a quadriplegic.

A Supreme Court jury in Sydney this week found Waverley Council, which runs Bondi Beach, responsible for Mr Swain's injuries and awarded him A$3.7m (£1.4m) compensation. He was swimming between flags used by lifeguards to designate a safe area, and sued the council for failing to warn of what he said was a hidden sandbar.

"It is quite possible that we will have to close the beach or remove lifeguard services from the beach," George Newhouse, a Waverley councillor, said yesterday. "That is the ultimate result of these sorts of claims. Do we have to put up a sign saying 'life is dangerous, be careful'?"

The council was considering an appeal, and the mayor of Queensland's Gold Coast, Gary Baildon – whose council controls about 35 miles of beaches – offered to help to fund it.

Australia's volunteer lifesavers called on state governments to cap compensation payouts against charitable organisations, saying they may not be able to renew their soaring insurance premiums.

Dominic Sullivan, the mayor of Randwick Council, which runs beaches south of Bondi, said local authorities were liable the moment they took precautions for swimmers. He asked whether his council could be liable for a shark attack, considering its use of shark nets.