Articles Posted in School Injuries

courtroom-300x199Winning is fun, especially when it’s a win not only for your client, but for many other people as well.  I am proud to say I recently helped win a victory for people injured through the negligence of governmental entities such as counties, cities and school districts.  In New York, these entities are known as “public corporations”.  Let me explain.

The case, Newcomb v Middle Country Central School District, was about a teenager struck by a hit-and-run car while attempting to cross an intersection near his high school. He suffered a life-altering brain injury.  His parents hired a lawyer who, among other things, tried to investigate whether other people, besides the driver, might have contributed to accident.  In other words, was anyone besides the driver at fault?  The lawyer did everything he could to get his hands on the police file.  But unfortunately the police delayed eight months in getting the lawyer the photos of the accident scene, the police report and other investigative materials.

Once the lawyer got the photos, he noticed that the School District had placed a temporary sign (announcing a high school musical) at the corner of the intersection.  The sign appeared to obstruct the line of sight between pedestrian and driver. This was likely a cause of the pedestrian not seeing the car approaching, and the driver not seeing the teenager as he stepped off the curb.

drunk teen.jpgFraternity hazing stories are legendary for their outrageous silliness and, unfortunately, their sometimes tragic outcomes. Pledges are sometimes required to consume large quantities of alcohol, do embarrassing and humiliating things in public, face harsh deprivations, weather inclemency, or paddle beatings.

This topic is of interest to me now that my own kid is off to college this year. And he wants to join a fraternity. Am I worried about hazing? You bet.

I don’t have too look far to find stories that make me lose sleep. Cornell University, right down the road from my office in Auburn, New York, has had its share of hazing tragedies. In 2011, for example, some pledges were blindfolded and bound at the wrists and ankles. They were then driven to a town house somewhere on campus where they were drilled with Fraternity’s history trivia questions. A wrong answer triggered forced shots of vodka. One of the pledges – who seems to have been a poor Fraternity historian — passed out, was loaded into the back seat of a car, and brought back to the Frat house where he was dumped on a couch to “sleep it off”. The next morning the cleaning crew found him dead, choked on his own vomit.

shoulder injury.jpgteacher knocked out.jpgIn nearby Tioga County, NY, a 10-year-old boy was recently hospitalized after his math teacher caused this injury (see photo) to the boy’s shoulder. The kid’s mom posted the photo on her Facebook page. Mom and child have served a “notice of claim”, which is the precursor to a lawsuit, on the School District. The notice of claim alleges that the boy was working on a math question, when teacher overheard him say, “c’mon.” The teacher then confronted the boy, dragged and lifted the boy by his right arm from his seat, and pushed him out of the classroom. He has apparently suffered a separation of his clavicle bone. Ouch!

Meanwhile, in another part of New York State — down in Long Island — the mother of a middle school student received a call from her 12-year-old daughter complaining that her teacher had “put her hands on me.” The outraged mother raced to school and somehow got past security (that should not have happened) and into the school. She then made a beeline to the teacher’s classroom, attacked her, put her in a headlock, and then threw her to the floor where the teacher lost consciousness. That’s her lying on the floor in the photo. (It’s all captured on surveillance tape). But that’s not all. While lying on the ground unconscious, the teacher was beaten by several students, including the mother’s 14-year-old niece. Talk about being an unpopular teacher!

So why am I blogging about these two unrelated events? Well, first, they are somewhat related in that they suggest there must be something in New York State’s drinking water making people crazy at school.

cornell.jpgAnyone familiar with Ithaca is also familiar with the ubiquitous bumper sticker and City slogan “Ithaca Is Gorges”. But bridges span those gorges, right on or near Cornell University’s campus, and students traverse those bridges by foot on their way to and from classes and town. When you combine Ithaca’s gloomy climate with the Ivy League pressure cooker, it’s no surprise that many of those students (a Cornell study says about 15%) frequently contemplate suicide, including jumping from the bridges. And over the years, many have! More specifically, from 1990 to 2010, there were 29 suicide attempts, 27 of which were successful, on the seven bridges located on or near campus.

Cornell was so concerned about the bridges’ magnet-like pull on suicide contemplators that it undertook anti-suicide bridge renovations in 2006 or so. But at that time a virtually suicide-proof alteration — the installation of nets under the bridges — was rejected because it would tarnish the scenery. Instead Cornell took half-measures, like building the side walls of the bridges a bit higher, and curving them somewhat. When several more kids threw themselves to their death from those same bridges, Cornell did an about face and is now implementing the net concept.

But the parents of one of the kids who jumped after the renovations have sued Cornell, and the City of Ithaca as owner of the bridge in question, alleging, basically, that they should have gotten it right the first time.

Thumbnail image for sad teen silouette.jpgYesterday I blogged about whether a “governmental immunity ” or “sovereign immunity” defense would bar a claim by child sex abuse victims against the State University of New York (“SUNY”) if something like what happened at Penn State (State university football coach sexually abuses children on campus) happened in New York at SUNY Geneseo, or SUNY Albany, or SUNY Cortland, etc. I concluded that those defenses generally would not be applicable in New York. But unfortunately, unlike in Pennsylvania, another defense would likely prevail in New York: The statute of limitations.

Pennsylvania, unlike New York, has extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims until they reach age 30. From news reports, it seems that all the Penn State child sexual abuse victims are still under 30 years old. So they can, and probably will, be able to sue Penn State for compensation, though on the very same facts, they would not be able to do so in New York

In New York, there is no specific statute of limitations for civil cases based on child sexual abuse claims. The child victim must rely instead on traditional statutes of limitations for assault (by the perpetrator) and negligence (by the employer of the perpetrator or owner of the building where it happened). In New York, the statute of limitations for assault is one year, and for negligence it is three years.

Thumbnail image for schoolhallway.jpgKids have a known propensity to fool around, sometimes dangerously. Some kids go beyond mere fooling around, and bully or hit other kids. All these childish behaviors are dangerous, which is why God invented adults. Yes, we adults were put here on earth to keep kids from killing and maiming each other! (Unfortunately, some adults are like children, but that’s another story. . . )

When you, as a parent, turn your sweet little Johnny over to the school district to receive his education, you also hand over to the school, to a certain degree, parental responsibilities. The school, in the eyes of the law, steps into the shoes of a parent, which means the school has a duty to provide proper supervision and control of your child and all others. If the school does not properly supervise its students, the school district can be sued and held liable for the harm caused.

But not all harm that befalls your child at the hands of other kids at school can, in the eyes of the law, be blamed on the school. The school is not an insurer of your child’s safety. The school must act responsibly in fashioning sound safety rules, and in supervising its students, and it must ensure that the rules are being implemented by teachers and other staff. But it cannot prevent all injuries caused by other kids, especially unexpected and unforeseeable injuries.

playground (2).jpgI love the New York Times. Read it every day. That doesn’t mean I always agree with it. And here’s a great example.

A recent article by John Tierny explains that some playground “researchers” question the value of safety-first playgrounds. The researchers claim that, while it is “debatable” whether modern safety-minded playgrounds protect children from injuries, they hurt children by “stunting emotional development.” These academics believe that taking “risks”, such as the risk of falling from heights, is an important part of developing a healthy psyche. According to one of these head-in-the-clouds academics- a professor of Psychology – we should bring back the days of sky-high slides and jungle gyms, and see-saws too, because, while falls are common, “these rarely cause permanent damage”, and getting rid of those risks makes playgrounds boring and deprives kids of the opportunity to grow emotionally.

No offense Professor, but this sounds like bull_ _ _ _. And I have to wonder whether your research was funded by municipal insurers. Where’s your proof? The article doesn’t say.

Thumbnail image for schoolsign.jpgI hate reeling off statistics to make a point, but I couldn’t resist these: Children 15 and younger account for 22% of all pedestrians injured in traffic crashes. And 38% of child pedestrian fatalities occur in crashes between 3 and 7 p.m (after school gets out).

So what’s my point? School’s back in session. When you are out driving, watch out for kids, especially in the hours before school (7:00 to 8:00 a.m. or so) and after school (3:00 to 7:00 p.m. or so).

Unfortunately, since I handle New York pedestrian injury and death cases, I know too well, up close, the devastation that car-on-child collisions cause. This past year I had to represent the family of a 4-year old killed by a car. No amount of money could ever replace that loss, of course. It is indescribably tough on the family of the dead child, but it isn’t a cakewalk for the at-fault motorist either. Imagine the life-long guilt, shame, and remorse!

bullied.jpgIn New York State, schools are legally responsible for preventing their students, at least while they are at school, from harming each other. This includes preventing school injuries caused by horseplay and avoidable accidents, but also intentional harm students might inflict on each other through assaults, harassment or bullying. School teachers and administrators cannot stand idly by while some students assault, harass, threaten, taunt or bully others. The school has a legal duty to take reasonable measures to make its school safe for its students. When it comes to bullying, if a school does not have rules in place to deal with such behavior, or if it fails to follow these rules, the student-victim can bring a lawsuit against the school for money damages under a legal theory of “negligent supervision”.

School bullying was in the news a lot this week. The saddest story, and the one to catch all the national news, was about an Irish immigrant girl at a school in Massachusetts who was so relentlessly bullied that it drove her to commit suicide. The girl had been the recipient of a barrage of assaults, threats, and taunting for months. The local district attorney has charged 9 fellow students with crimes that led to the suicide, including stalking, criminal harassment and violation of civil rights.

There is plenty of blame blame to go around, though, and certainly the school deserves a lot of it. The school knew about the bullying. A psychologist says she consulted with school administrators months before the 15-year-old hanged herself. But they did nothing to stop the bullying. Watch for a lawsuit from the dead girl’s parents — I’ll bet it’s in the works, as well it should be.

badges
Contact Information