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School Dodges Wrestling Hold Claim (NY)

March 30, 2018

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/ad4/Clerk/Decisions/2018/03-23-18/PDF/0013.pdf">Hale v. Holley Central School District</a>,</em> Plaintiff was injured when an 11th-grade classmate unexpectedly walked up behind him before gym class and put him in a chokehold, causing him to lose consciousness and fall face-first against the floor. Defendant Holley Central School District moved for summary judgment under the theory that there was insufficient notice that the student who placed plaintiff in a sleeper hold was dangerous or would have caused such injury. The lower Court disagreed and denied defendant’s motion. Defendant appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">A school has a duty to adequately supervise the students in their charge, and will be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision. Schools are not insurers of safety, however, as they cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all movements and activities of students; therefore, schools are not to be held liable ‘for every thoughtless or careless act by which one pupil may injure another.’</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">As such, the Fourth Department ruled the lower court erred in denying summary judgment as there was no actual or constructive notice of the student’s behavior such that the student’s act could be reasonably anticipated. According to school records, the student never engaged in any disorderly or violent conduct in any previous gym class. Although the student had a disciplinary problem, the Fourth Department ruled that the student’s prior endangering conduct was too remote to provide defendant with sufficiently specific knowledge or notice.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Furthermore, the Fourth Department was not persuaded by plaintiff’s argument based upon the mixed grade levels in the gym class and, relatedly, the size differences between plaintiff and the other student. The evidence established that it was common for students to wait in the gym until all students exited the locker room before class began. The gym teacher usually would be in his office during this time period because his office had doors leading directly to both the gym and the locker room, which allowed him to monitor both areas simultaneously. Unlike cases in which there was a history of dangerous conduct, the Fourth Department concluded that there was nothing in the record that provided defendant or its gym teacher with specific knowledge or notice of previous dangerous circumstances or conduct.</p>
Thanks to Paul Vitale for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmlaw.com">Mike Bono</a> with any questions.

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