Halloween Party Tricky for NJ Tort Claims and Charitable Immunity

A  Halloween party family fun night turned tricky for the defense of a Board of Education and non-profit Home and School Association in litigation arising from the claims of a fifth grade attendee who fell and badly fractured his femur.  Although he fell near a spilled liquid, there was little evidence about how or specifically where he fell.  The plaintiffs sued the school Board and Association in Vinci v. Clifton Board of Education.

The plaintiffs’ claims against the Board, a public entity, were subject to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.  Plaintiff pursued two theories:  the spill created a dangerous condition on public property and the Board failed to properly supervise the party.  The first of these was dismissed on a summary judgment motion since the court disagreed that the entity acted palpably unreasonably, the standard of proof required for this theory.  The negligent supervision claim proceeded to trial.

The plaintiff’s claims against the non-profit Association were subject to the Charitable Immunity Act.  While the motion judge granted summary judgment with respect to negligence allegations, the plaintiff was permitted  to amend the complaint to include a gross negligence  count that proceeded to trial.

At trial, a jury found the Board negligently supervised the event and that the Association was grossly negligent.  However, in a tricky twist, the jury did not find that these transgressions proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury.

The plaintiff appealed.  The Appellate Division affirmed the partial summary judgments and the jury no cause of action.  However, in one last twist, the court upheld the dangerous condition dismissal against the Board but on a notice issue rather than the palpably unreasonable standard.  With the no cause affirmation, the Appellate Division chose not to further consider the defendants’ appeals of the motion court’s decision to not fully resolve the claims on motion.

For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com