Plaintiff’s Summary Judgment Motion Gets Schooled by Department of Education (NY)
In E.W. v. City of New York, the plaintiff, a then-third grade student at P.S. 44, was injured while walking between classes when he stopped to converse with a friend. The plaintiff alleges that the door he was holding, while he was talking, automatically closed on its own. The door severed the tip of plaintiff’s index finger, which had become caught between the door and the doorjamb near the hinges.
As a result of the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff and his mother commenced a personal injury action against defendants, the City of New York and the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”). After discovery was complete, the defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The Supreme Court granted the defendants’ motion and in response, the plaintiffs appealed.
The New York Appellate Division, Second Department found that the Supreme Court properly granted the branch of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action alleging negligent supervision. In reaching this decision, the Court recognized that although schools have a duty to provide supervision to ensure the safety of those in their charge, schools will be held liable only for foreseeable injuries proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision. The Court determined that when an accident occurs in so short a span of time that even the most intense supervision could not have prevented it, lack of supervision is not the proximate cause of the injury. Therefore, the Court found that the defendants established, prima facie, that any alleged inadequacy in the level of supervision was not a proximate cause of the accident. As for the City, the Court also found that the City established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the complaint by showing the accident occurred on public school premises, which the City did not operate, maintain, or control.
This decision serves as a reminder that while schools owe a duty to students to provide supervision, only those injuries that are both foreseeable and proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision will invoke liability.
Thank you to Caitlin Larke for her contribution to this post. Please email Colleen E. Hayes with any questions.