School Is Not Its Student’s Keeper (NY)

When a high school student was attacked by another student on an athletic field owned by a school district, a claim followed under the theory that the district failed to provide adequate security and negligently left gates open to the field.  The assault allegedly occurred, at approximately 9:30 p.m., after a group of youths,who had been drinking alcohol, congregated on the field without permission.

Although the Supreme Court, Suffolk County denied the school’s summary judgment motion, the Appellate Division held that the West Islip Union Free School District made a prima facie showing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.  In Weisbecker v. West Islip Union Free School District,  the court reasoned that the School District owed no special duty to the plaintiff.  It held that the mere provision of security does not give rise to a special duty of protection.  In this case, the School District established that it did not make direct assurances regarding security to the plaintiff and that he did not rely on the provision of security in deciding to congregate with others on the field.

Further, the West Islip UFSD demonstrated that the failure to lock the gates accessing the field was not a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, since the assault was not a foreseeable act.  It is well settled that a plaintiff must prove that the public entity’s negligent acts must be the proximate cause of the injury sustained as the result of a foreseeable act by a third party.  This was not established by the plaintiff.

Since neither theory advanced a triable issue of fact, the Appellate Division reversed the lower court and held the district was entitled to summary judgment.

Special thanks to Johan Obregon for his contribution.

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