Buddy System Defense Prevails in Camping Trip Lawsuit (NY)
In Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, a 13-year-old plaintiff sustained head injuries while participating in a camping trip at a facility owned and operated by defendants. He alleged that he stumbled and fell at night in the unlit, uneven area outside of the camp’s shower house. Plaintiff was wearing a working head lamp but could not say what caused his fall. Other witnesses alleged that plaintiff fell after engaging in horseplay in the shower house and fell as he was running away.
In evaluating the summary judgment motion, the defendants met their burden to show that the negligent supervision claim should be dismissed as a matter of law. In response, plaintiff’s attempts to raise a triable issue pursuant to New York Court Codes, Rules and Regulations, Section 7-2.5 (Personnel, Supervision and Camp Safety Plan) under the guise of lack of visual or verbal communication capability at the shower house were unsuccessful because plaintiff failed to show that his injuries were both foreseeable and proximately caused by the absence of adequate supervision.
The court found plaintiff’s expert’s statement that the incident was foreseeable merely because the boys were “totally unsupervised and unregulated for a lengthy period of time in a potentially dangerous/hazardous environment” was conclusory and unfounded. Rather, the court found that plaintiff was accompanied by fellow scouts as part of the “buddy system”, which had a proven record of success without adult supervision. None of the scouts had a history of misbehavior, disciplinary issues, or disobedience. Accordingly, defendants were not on notice that an accident was likely to result under the circumstances.
Defendants also met their burden that any allegedly inadequate supervision was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries, “given the impulsive nature of plaintiff’s own acts” and the short time span between those acts and his injuries. In response, plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue as to whether the accident would have been avoided even with heightened security. As such, the decision was affirmed on appeal.
Thanks to Sara Matschke for her contribution to this post and please write to Mike Bono with any questions.