November 6, 2018

A Cup Of Joe | School Is Not At Fault When 10-year Old Injured On Playground Court

A Cup Of Joe | School Is Not At Fault When 10-year Old Injured On Playground Court

Autumn is here in New York City, and at lunchtime children can be seen playing wildly in the local schoolyards fearing only the sound of the whistle or bell that will bring to an abrupt end  their state of bliss.  Sometimes, though, play period ends prematurely because a child gets hurt.

This week's case is about Terry, a 10-year-old boy who was hurt while playing basketball at his school, PS 170 in Brooklyn, where he played every week. Terry was hurt when he took a step to shoot the basketball into the hoop and tripped on a white concrete patch around the basketball poll. He fell forward and hit his head against a low concrete retaining wall just beyond the pole. Terry's parents sued the school for negligence: inadequate supervision and hazardous condition.

At Terry's deposition, he was asked if there were any rules he had to follow when he was playing ball. Here is how Terry answered: "No, 'cause there was no supervision from anybody." Terry was then asked how far away any of the teachers were. Terry testified, "200 feet away." Later in the deposition he testified that he was speaking to the Dean right next to the basketball hoop. There were about 50 kids playing at the time of the accident.

The school's attorneys made a motion for judgment. The court ruled in favor of the school. Here is why:  The patch around the pole was open and apparent, and the school did nothing to conceal the patch. Also, Terry played basketball on that very court numerous times and was aware of the presence of the patch and the low wall near the court. Therefore, Terry assumed the risk of getting hurt while playing.

The court also noted that schools are not insurers of safety, because they cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all movements and activities of students. The Judge ruled that the school established that Terry's accident was a spontaneous and unforeseen act, which no amount of supervision could have prevented. Terry's case is over. 

Kids play; kids get hurt. Sometimes it is not anyone's fault. Terry's parents were angry at the school because their child was hurt. So they sued. The Supreme Court, in a decision from many years ago stated, that the right to sue is the alternative to force. Terry's parents chose the civilized option. Unfortunately for them, the court found that Terry's injuries resulted from an unavoidable accident.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_51917.htm

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