School Cannot Control Student’s Every Movement (NY)

Although a school acts in loco parentis, it – like parents – cannot protect every child against every injury.  In Donnelly v. St. Agnes Cathedral School , the parents of an eleven year old student brought an action against his school alleging premises liability and negligent supervision after a fire door closed on his fingertips.

The undisputed facts of the case showed that the plaintiff had approached the door walking forward but turned around when he heard someone call him.  He extended his hand to hold the door open.  Unfortunately, his fingers were pinched within the hinged side of the door and the doorjamb when the door closed.  Based upon these facts the Second Department reversed the lower court’s denial of summary judgment.

Although the plaintiff alleged that the school failed to regularly inspect the door, this was disproven by the school citing a State mandated fire safety inspection one month prior.  Additionally, the plaintiff’s engineer provided only a conclusory and speculative opinion that the door closed too quickly.  Finally, there was no factual basis for a finding that the school had either actual or constructive notice of any defect with the door.

The Court also summarily dismissed the negligent supervision claim recognizing that the school could not reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of the student’s movements and activities.   A school can only be expected to provide supervision to guard against foreseeable injuries.  In the instant matter, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to the foreseeability of the plaintiff’s injury.

Special thanks to Georgia Stagias for her contribution.

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