Archive for the ‘High School’ Category

No Relief – Issue of Town’s Liability Regarding Condition of High School Baseball Field for the Jury (MA)

October 19, 2015

Murray v. Town of Hudson (Massachusetts)

A relief pitcher for a high school baseball team injured his knee while warming up in the visiting team bullpen.  He filed a lawsuit against the town that maintained the park at which the baseball field was located, alleging that the injury was caused by the town’s negligence and its wanton and reckless conduct in allowing the visiting team to use a dangerous bullpen.  The town filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the negligence claim was barred by the Massachusetts recreational use statute, and that the evidence did not support a finding of wanton or reckless conduct.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the pitcher appealed.

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Bitten – Questions Certified to Supreme Court on Huge Jury Verdict for Student Stricken by Illness on School Tour (CT)

October 16, 2015

Munn v. Hotchkiss (Connecticut)

A fifteen-year-old freshman at a private boarding school participated in a month-long summer program in China organized by the school.  Prior to participating in the program, the school sent the student and her parents a packet outlining the activities and a set of legal forms requesting that the parents waive legal claims against the school.  The school also sent medical advice regarding the trip, including a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) webpage and a note that the school’s infirmary could “serve as a travel clinic.”  However, the CDC website reference was incorrect and the infirmary was unable to provide independent medical advice.  The school also later sent an itinerary, a packing list (including a general reference to “bug spray”), and a handbook on international travel.  However, there were no specific warnings about insect-borne diseases where health risks were mentioned in the materials.

During the program, the students went on a weekend excursion without any bug sprays warnings being given.  After walking through trees and brush, the student had numerous bug bites and an itchy welt on her left arm.  Ten days later, the student awoke with a headache, fever, and wooziness.  Her condition deteriorated and she was taken to the hospital.  Eventually, the student’s parents traveled to China from the United States to be with her in the hospital.  She was severely ill and partially paralyzed, and was airlifted back to New York.  The student was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (“TBE”), a viral infectious disease that affects the central nervous system.  She lost the ability to speak and lost cognitive function, although she managed to live a functional life, finishing high school and attending college.

The student and her parents filed a diversity action in federal court against the school, alleging that the school was negligent in the planning and supervision of the trip.  Plaintiffs claimed that the school failed to warn them about the risks of viral encephalitis and failed to provide her with protective clothing, bug spray, or vaccinations.  They also alleged that the school failed to provide medical personnel on the trip and failed to establish procedures for medical emergencies.  The defendant school argued that the “Agreement Waiver, and Release of Liability” form that was signed by the student’s parents prior to the program precluded liability, but the District Court excluded the document, finding that its language was ambiguous and that it was contrary to public policy under Connecticut law.

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(Un)Safe! – High School Softball Playing Injured During Sliding Drill; Triable Issues Regarding Increased Risks (NY)

August 31, 2015

Brown v. Roosevelt Union Free School District (New York)

A high school senior softball player was injured while participating in an infield sliding drill during softball practice on an elementary school field.  The team was practicing on the elementary school field because the high school field was being renovated.  The injured player’s mother filed a lawsuit on her behalf alleging that the coach increased the inherent risks of the softball by having her perform an infield sliding drill on a grass field.  The defendant school filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the claim was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.  Defendant asserted that under the law, the risks of an activity include risks associated with the construction of the playing surface and any open and obvious condition on it.  The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant appealed.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court decision.  The Court concluded that “the defendants failed to establish, prima facie, that the infant’s coach, by having her perform an infield sliding drill on the subject grass field, did not unreasonably increase the inherent risks of the activity.”  In that the defendant failed to meet its burden, the Court said it did not need to determine the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s opposition papers.

Formal Hazards – Liability Releases for Prom Parties? (NY Times)

June 15, 2015

The New York Times recently published an article about parents requiring liability release and indemnity documents in connection with after-prom parties.  It’s certainly not an unexpected development in today’s litigious society.  How would you react if your son or daughter came home with something like this?

Prom Accessories: Corsages, Limousines and Liability Waivers 

Taking One for the Team – Minor Cheerleader Assumed the Risk of Practicing with an Injured Teammate (NY)

April 23, 2015

Photo by Adam Burke. No changes made.

Kurt T. Jurgensen, as Parent and Natural Guardian of Jayna R. Jurgensen (New York)

A minor student was injured while working with her teammates on a choreographed stunt that involved two cheerleaders (the “bases”) throwing the student into the air and then catching her.  The stunt was completed successfully on the first attempt on the day of the incident, but on the second attempt, the student felt plaintiff in her knee when her teammates threw her up in the air.  The student suffered a ligament injury to her knee, and she alleged that the injury occurred because one of her teammates was practicing that day with a sprained ankle, which caused her to hold the student’s foot for too long before throwing her in the air.  The student’s father filed a lawsuit on the student’s behalf, alleging that the school district was negligent in allowing the injured teammate to participate in the practice.  The defendant moved for summary judgment, contending that the action was barred by the doctrine of assumption of risk.  The Supreme Court of New York denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York reversed the decision.  The Court concluded that the plaintiff’s daughter knew that her teammate was injured, and that the teammate had not been cleared to practice.  Additionally, the plaintiff’s daughter had performed the stunt with the same teammate earlier on the day in question, and the daughter said she had noticed the based was “a little more shaky” than usual.  Despite this knowledge, the daughter testified that she “didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”  The Court asserted that the daughter practicing with a teammate knowing the teammate was injured was analogous to a cheerleader practicing without a mat or an athlete playing on a field that is in less than perfect condition.  Therefore, the Court held that the action was barred by the doctrine of assumption of risk.

(Photo by Adam Burke.  No changes made.)

Blades of Gory – Hockey Locker Room Injury Inherent in the Sport (NY)

April 22, 2015

Litz v. Clinton Central School District (New York)

Plaintiff sustained an injury in the locker room following a high school hockey practice when a teammate still wearing skates stepped backward on the plaintiff’s bare foot.  Plaintiff filed an action against several defendants, including the school district, the head coach, and the assistant coach.  The school defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff had assumed the risks associated with the sport of hockey, and that the defendant did not owe a duty to protect the plaintiff from those risks.  The New York Supreme Court entered summary judgment for the defendants and dismissed the complaint, and plaintiff appealed.   (more…)

Untrained Warrior – High Schooler Injured in Self-Defense Course Gets Her Day in Court (NY)

April 19, 2015

Pierre v. Ramapo Central School District (New York)

A minor high school student was injured while competing as a participant in her school’s self-defense tournament, a voluntary competition open to female students who were enrolled in an elective self-defense class taught by a physical education teacher.  The student filed an action against the school district claiming that the class was actually a mixed martial arts class and alleging that the district was negligent in allowing the class to be instructed by (and the tournament to be refereed by) a person with little martial arts training.

The defendant school district filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred the action and that any negligent supervision on its behalf was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  The Supreme Court initially denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

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If You’re Asked, Put On Your Mask

June 28, 2011

Inherent Risks in Baseball (California – Motion for Summary Judgment)
(Injury to catcher not wearing a mask during a bullpen session deemed to be an inherent risk of the sport of baseball.)

Paul Tetreault and Don Ornelas of the law firm of Agajanian, McFall, Weiss, Tetreault & Crist LLP in Los Angeles recently obtained summary judgment on behalf of several clients in the Rancho Cucamonga District of the San Bernardino County Superior Court.  Plaintiff was injured while practicing with his baseball club team, the Chino Dirt Dawgs, when a baseball struck him in the mouth while he was catching during a bullpen session.  Evans was not wearing a catcher’s mask at the time.  He asserted a claim for general negligence against the Dirt Dawgs, and two of its coaches, Brent Billingsley and Kyle Billingsley.

The defendants filed for summary judgment based upon primary assumption of the risk, asserting that plaintiff’s injury was the result of an inherent risk in the sport of baseball and that there was no evidence that they had done anything to “increase the risks” inherent in the sport.  The trial court agreed, and granted the motion, despite plaintiff’s claim that the coaches’ failure to force plaintiff to wear the mask during the bullpen session “increased the risks.”  The court ruled that getting struck in the mouth with a baseball is a risk that is always inherent in the sport of baseball, and plaintiff’s failure to wear a mask at the time of injury did not establish a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendants increased the risks inherent in the sport.

Injured Shot Putter Chances in Court Are Shot

July 6, 2008

Gerry v. Commack Union Free School District (New York)
(Injured High School Shot Putter’s Assumed Risk of Being Hit by Shot.)

The plaintiff, a high school student-athlete shot putter, was injured when he was hit with a shot thrown by the defendant during a track meet. As a member of the school’s track team, plaintiff had participated in 10 to 15 similar track meets, and he had thrown the shot himself between 100 and 200 times. The trial court granted the defendant school district’s motion, dismissing the case, and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the Court explained that “[i]n assessing whether a defendant has violated a duty of care in the context of an injury sustained during a sport or game, [it] must [be] determine[d] whether the defendant created a unique condition ‘over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport’.” The Court concluded that there was “no evidence in the record that any conduct on the part of the defendants created a unique condition over and above the usual dangers associated with the sport of shot put.” Therefore, the Court affirmed the ruling. The plaintiff attempted to offer the declaration of an expert witness on appeal, but the Court stated that the plaintiff had unreasonably delayed in identifying the expert witness.

NOTE: Technically a determination of the inherent risks in an activity should not inolve the analysis of a participant’s subjective experience. The inherent risks are the inherent risks regardless of anyone’s particular experience or knowledge. Nonetheless, whenever evidence of extensive experience is available, it is generally useful to include from a defendant perspective as it may help balance the equities and alleviate any sympathy facotrs that may be asserted. It would have been interesting to see how the court would have dealt with the expert witness testimony if it had been timely and admissible. It has always been a point of contention, and there is not been total consensus, in terms of whether or not expert witnesses should be allowed to offer opinions to the court as to what it or is not an inherent risk in an activity.

Injured High School Track Athlete Hurdles Summary Judgment

July 6, 2008

Morales v. Beacon City School District (New York)
(Inexperienced High School Track Athlete Injured During Practice After Coach Directed Him to Run Hurdles With Minimal Instruction; Court Denied School’s Summary Judgment Due to Triable Issue of Fact Regarding Increased Risks.)

The plaintiff was a high school track athlete who had minimal experience running hurdles. He claimed that the coach told him to run hurdles, but failed to give him adequate instruction, resulting in his personal injury. Additionally, the athlete contended the hurdle he fell over was not set up properly because the horizontal bar was uneven. The defendant school moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff had assumed the inherent risks of injury by participating in this sports activity. The court denied the motion and the school appealed

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