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Liability of Student Injuries is Based on NY School’s Control Over Events

By Dansker & Aspromonte

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July 20, 2024

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According to a recent opinion of an appeals court, the amount of control a district has over a school-related activity that students attend can determine whether or not a NY school is responsible for students that get injured. When a school is the one controlling what’s going on within an event and is able to prevent and put a halt to negligent activities or behavior that’s dangerous and can potentially cause harm to a student, then the school could be liable when they don’t take action to stop negligent harm that ends up injuring someone.

An Example Shown in Germantown

Back in 2009, there was a 5-year-old female that got injured while attending a school event called “Family Fun Night”. This was located within the Germantown Central School District in New York. While there, the young girl climbed onto a pinscreen that weighed 70 pounds, which then toppled over.

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The parents of the young girl filed a personal injury lawsuit that stated that the school district was liable for the injuries their daughter sustained. They also sued the Germantown Central School District Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), which sponsored the event. (According to the Register-Star, the screen’s inventor was also sued, but this isn’t mentioned in the appellate opinion).

The case was taken to trial court by the PTSA and defendant district in order to have summary judgment granted in their favor. This is a judicial declaration, which states that the facts aren’t being disputed and that since the facts are undisputed, they can be used to determine a no liability judgment against the defending school district. This motion was denied by the court. The case was appealed by the defendant, but the appellate court also found that a trial was needed to resolve the questions of fact.

The Control of the School

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The claims of the parents were that the PTSA and school district weren’t providing ample supervision over the activity around the pinscreen. They also alleged that the PTSA, who arranged for the pinscreen equipment to be there, was guilty of not seeing the lack of safety of the equipment and its “unreasonable risk” of injury that it presented.

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The school district stated in defense that the event was not directed or controlled by them, so they couldn’t be held responsible for the persons there, and therefore was not liable for their daughter’s injuries. The appellate court didn’t agree with their defense and found that factual questions did exist that required answers within a trial, regarding the issue of whether or not the district had sufficient control of the Family Fun Night event that made them responsible for keeping people secure from circumstances and conditions that were negligent.

There were a couple of possible aspects that were cited by the appellate court that indicated the school district’s control over the event:

  • Whether or not the district was required to give permission for activities held on the property of a school
  • If the district was simultaneously having a science fair with the PTSA event, and were both advertised as one event by the district
  • If employees of the school district helped with prepping for the Family Fun Night event
  • Whether the school’s nurse was there in an official capacity

There were other similar claims that were found along with those against the PTSA.

Parties Reach a Settlement

According to the Register-Star, the appellate court wouldn’t grant a summary judgment motion on behalf of PTSA and the school district. The parties ended up settling the case outside of court. There was no mention of how much the settlement was, so it is likely confidential.

If your child gets hurt while at a school event or event that’s sponsored by a school in New York, it’s recommended that you talk with an attorney that is experienced in school liability, so that you can learn of your rights as a parent and possible remedies that you can use. Don’t hesitate once this occurs because there are important legal deadlines in New York for filing claims and giving notice. Not filing in a timely manner could preclude the lawsuit from taking place and could forever prevent the injured person from getting his or her rightful recovery.

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