Posts tagged with "negligence action"

How to File a Personal Injury Claim Against a School in Connecticut

If you have a personal injury claim against a school, a school employee, or a similar government entity or employee, you probably already know that it’s more complicated than just suing a private homeowner for a slip-and-fall. But what makes it so complicated, and what is the process?

Schools and their employees are often immune from liability for actions they undertake within the course and scope of their duties. That immunity is not unlimited, however, and particularly where a child’s injury is caused by gross negligence, malice, or wantonness, you can be compensated with monetary damages. CGS § 4-141, et seq. But, before you take your case to court, your case must be reviewed by the Commissioner of Claims.

Depending on the value of your case, the Commissioner of Claims will review your case, and may conduct a fact finding investigation, including witness interviews, document inspections, and other types of inquiries. The parties may engage in discovery in some cases, and the Attorney General may also be permitted to file a dispositive motion that asks the Commissioner to decide the issues in the case just on the known facts and law, but without a full hearing or trial. Once the Commissioner of Claims’ investigation (if applicable) is complete, s/he may issue a decision, or if there are unresolved legal issues, they may authorize you to file suit in
court.

Navigating an administrative process with an administrative authority requires expert guidance. Small mistakes such as misunderstanding a statute or missing a deadline can impact or even eliminate your ability to seek relief. If you have a personal injury claim against a school, school employee, or a similar government entity, the attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. can assist you. Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya may be reached directly by telephone at (203) 221-3100, ext. 110 or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

The above is not intended to constitute legal advice, and you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible if you believe you have this, or any other type of claim.

In Negligence Suit, Superior Court Finds in Favor of Defendant School District, Citing Qualified Immunity

In a recent negligence action, the Superior Court of Connecticut in Litchfield granted a motion to strike filed by school officials and a town board of education (collectively the defendants) because no exception to qualified immunity for discretionary acts applied to the case.

Case Details

One day during recess, a parent’s daughter was kicked and injured by a classmate (defendant student). The defendants were aware that the daughter was frequently bullied and harassed by the defendant student. Therefore, the parent filed suit, alleging that the defendant “failed in its duty to protect [his daughter] against any future bullying.”  However, the defendants asserted that they were not subject to liability because of governmental immunity.

Generally, municipal employees enjoy “qualified immunity in the performance of a governmental duty,”[1] which involves the exercise of discretion. However, even this immunity may be surmounted by a plaintiff if he or she can establish the applicability of one of three exceptions.

Identifiable Person-Imminent Harm

One of these exceptions is the “identifiable person-imminent harm” exception, which requires: “(1) an identifiable victim; (2) an imminent harm; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[2] This is a narrowly applied exception, however, because the harm itself must be “limited both in duration and in geography to make it apparent to the defendants that schoolchildren were subject to imminent harm.”[3] In other words:

Imminent harm excludes risks which might occur, if at all, at some unspecified time in the future. In order to meet the imminent harm prong of this exception… the risk must be temporary and of short duration.[4]

In this case, the Court found that although the plaintiff satisfied the first prong, he failed to do so with the second two. He failed to “allege a temporary condition which placed [his daughter] in imminent harm;” rather, it could have happened anytime, anywhere during the school day.[5] The defendants’ knowledge of the previous bullying and harassment, without more, was insufficient to satisfy the remainder of the test. Therefore, the Court ruled that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and granted the motion to strike.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or harassed at school, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions regarding school liability or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Burns v. Board of Education, 228 Conn. 640, 645 (1994).

[2] Violano v. Fernandez, 280 Conn. 310, 319-20 (2006).

[3] Doe v. Board of Education, 76 Conn. App. 296, 302-03 (2003).

[4] Cady v. Tolland, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3526.

[5] Antalik et al. v. Thomaston Board of Education, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2082.

School District Was Not on Notice of Inappropriate Teacher Conduct with Student; Negligence Action Dismissed

Seven years ago yesterday, the Superior Court of Connecticut in the Judicial District of Middletown handed down its decision in a lawsuit filed by a former student (plaintiff) against the Town of Clinton as well as the board of education. In this case, the plaintiff “brought a direct claim against the defendants, alleging failure to supervise and negligent supervision” in violation of state law,[1] leading to his sexual abuse by a teacher while he was in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.

A municipality’s liability for negligent acts or omissions depends on whether they “require the exercise of judgment or discretion as an official function of the authority expressly or impliedly granted by law.”[2] In other words, acts that must be performed by the dictates of State law, thus prohibiting discretion, may result in liability if negligently performed; if discretion is permitted, liability will not attach unless one of three exceptions applies.

Discretionary Acts

Historically, Connecticut courts have held that “the duty of the defendant [school district] to supervise students is a discretionary, governmental duty.”[3] In addition, employer conduct with respect to failure to screen, hire, train, supervise, control, and discipline constitutes “discretionary acts as a matter of law.”[4]

In this case, the plaintiff contended that under Connecticut law,[5] the defendants “had no discretion not to conduct a continuous teacher evaluation.”[6] Though the defendants agreed with the statutory mandate, it asserted that “the manner in which such an evaluation is conducted is discretionary.”[7] The duty to act claimed by the plaintiff surrounded the use of the phrase “might have crossed the line,” stated by the teacher to a colleague in regards to her relationship with the plaintiff.

However, the Court found that “[t]here was absolutely no other evidence presented… to suggest any other way in which the defendants would be in any way on notice of any inappropriate conduct between [the teacher] and the plaintiff.”[8] After further concluding that no exception to governmental immunity for discretionary acts applied, the Court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school liability or any other education law matter, the attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioners and assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions or need more information, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Connecticut General Statutes § 52-557n.

[2] Id. at (a)(2)(B).

[3] Jane Doe v. Board of Education of the City of New Haven, 76 Conn. App. 296, 300 (2003).

[4] Hughes v. City of Hartford, 96 F. Supp. 2d 114, 119 (D.Conn. 2000).

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-151(b).

[6] Lingos v. Town of Clinton et al., 2005 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2746 at 7.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 8.

Student’s Negligence Action Against School

Student’s Negligence Action Against School, City of Stamford Survives Motion for Summary Judgment
Case Background

Jesse was a twenty-year-old special education student attending high school in Stamford. She repeatedly informed teachers and school officials about the unwanted romantic advances made by her classmate, Jonathan, but no action was ever taken. On February 28, 2005, Jesse asked to use the restroom located in the special education classroom; she was then sexually assaulted by Jonathan. Both students were sent to the office of the special education coordinator, and Jesse explained what occurred. Despite this knowledge, school officials permitted the two to ride on the same school bus home, during which Jesse was teased and called a liar by Jonathan.

Various teachers and staff, the Board of Education, and even the City of Stamford were later sued in a negligence action filed by Jesse. She contended that “the defendants were aware of [Jonathan’s behavior], but they failed to take appropriate measures to protect [her] from the sexual assault.”[1] However, in their motion for summary judgment, the defendants claimed protection through governmental immunity.

Governmental Immunity

Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…”[2] Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.”[3] However, even if a defendant successfully claims, as they did in this case, that the acts in question were discretionary, thus invoking governmental immunity, a plaintiff may still defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting one of three exceptions (discussed in greater detail here): in this case, the identifiable person-imminent harm exception.

The identifiable person-imminent harm exception requires a showing of three things: “(1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[4] A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;”[5] a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”[6]

The Court’s Decision

In discussing the motion to dismiss, the Court agreed that Jesse was an identifiable victim of the assault, but she failed to meet the imminent harm requirement. There was no evidence on the record as to when the previous sexual advances were made, nor did she show that the defendants should have known the sexual assault would take place on or about February 28, 2005.[7] However, the Court agreed that the exception was satisfied as to the school officials’ conduct in allowing the two to ride home together:

[Two school officials] admit in their affidavits that they knew some sort of sexual conduct had occurred between [Jesse] and [Jonathan]. Despite this fact, they did not stop [Jesse] from taking the bus with [Jonathan]. At that time, [Jesse] was an identifiable victim of harassment by [Jonathan], and the risk was limited in geographic and temporal scope because [Jesse] and [Jonathan] were riding the bus together and the risk only lasted the duration of the bus ride home. Moreover, the risk of harm was arguably imminent because the dismissal bell had just sounded to release the students early because of a snowstorm, and the bus would presumably be leaving soon thereafter.

Thus, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment as to most of the counts in the complaint (it granted the motion as to one negligence per se count). Although the lawsuit was later withdrawn[8] by Jesse, this case nonetheless serves as another example of a student and/or parent surviving a motion for summary judgment in the face of defendants asserting governmental immunity protection.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about any education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Estrada v. Stamford Board of Education et al., Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford, Docket No. CT 06 5002313. 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3022 (November 19, 2010, Tobin, J.).

[2] Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).

[3] Id.

[4] Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).

[5] Id. at 275-76.

[6] Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).

[7] See Footnote 1.

[8] http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/CaseDetail/PublicCaseDetail.aspx?DocketNo=FSTCV065002313S

Another Case Against the School District, Town Jumps Summary Judgment Hurdle

In a negligence action, the Superior Court of Connecticut at Danbury denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the Town of New Milford, the New Milford Board of Education, and several school employees (collectively the defendants). The Court was not persuaded that the defendants enjoyed governmental immunity from suit, or the claim that they did not owe a duty to a student-victim assaulted by another student on school grounds.

Case Details

In this case, the plaintiff was the target of repeated bullying and harassment from a classmate, Kevin, during his freshman and sophomore years in high school. He endured pushing and shoving, being struck by a stack of school books, menacing stares, and even derogatory “gay” remarks from Kevin. The plaintiff constantly complained to various school administrators, though no meaningful action was ever taken. This culminated to a full-blown assault of the plaintiff at Kevin’s hands outside the school cafeteria.

The plaintiff sued the defendants, arguing that they had a duty to protect him from Kevin and failed to do so. “The plaintiff contends that [one individual defendant] had a duty to compel compliance with school rules and to prevent bullying and harassment… [as well as ] a legal duty to be alert to possible situations that might include bullying and to inform the administration immediately of such events.”[1] In addition, he claimed that governmental immunity was inapplicable, because he was an identifiable victim to an imminent harm. Finally, he asserted town liability because the Board of Education was an agent for the town in “mandating control” over the public high school.[2]

Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…”[3] Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.”[4] However, even if a defendant successfully claims that the acts in question were discretionary, thus invoking governmental immunity, a plaintiff may still defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting one of three exceptions (discussed in greater detail here): in this case, the identifiable person-imminent harm exception.

Identifiable Person-Imminent Harm Exception

The identifiable person-imminent harm exception requires a showing of three things: “(1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[5] A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;”[6] a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”[7]

The Court sided with the plaintiff and denied summary judgment as to all defendants. It noted, “The [board of education’s] duty to supervise students is performed to the benefit of the municipality;”[8] in this case, the plaintiff’s claim didn’t involve his education, but rather “the inability of certain teachers and staff at New Milford High School to supervise and maintain control on its premises for the protection of its students.”[9] 

A duty to supervise students is not confined to just younger children, but also includes high school students because a gathering “in large numbers at lunch time or at sporting events would certainly seem to present a risk of incidents such as the one involved in this case occurring [an assault at school].”[10] Thus, on all grounds asserted by the defendants, the motion for summary judgment was denied.

This case, Straiton v. New Milford Board of Education, et al, appears to be continuing through the courts with a hearing scheduled for October 19, 2012. It may be found on the Judicial Branch website under DBD-CV10-6003255-S.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Bullying in schools has become a serious problem, and increasingly courts are willing to permit the case to proceed beyond a motion for summary judgment, despite claims of governmental immunity or no duty owed to the students. If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or assaulted, despite repeated unaddressed complaints to administration, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding bullying or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Straiton v. New Milford Board of Education et al., 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 773 at 15.

[2] Id. at 11.

[3] Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).

[4] Id.

[5] Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).

[6] Id. at 275-76.

[7] Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).

[8] Purzycki v. Fairfield, 244 Conn. 101, 112 (1998).

[9] Straiton, supra at 12-13.

[10] Maretz v. Huxley, Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Docket. No. CV 07 5011978 (January 12, 2009, Corradino, J.)