Westchester Court Rules that School is Responsible for Bullying Injury

By Michael Joseph on May 08, 2018

Our White Plains Personal Injury lawyers won a major victory in the Westchester Supreme Court by overcoming a school  district's motion to dismiss the case. The consequences of bullying have become more serious in recent years, with injuries being the result when Schools do not play active role in protecting our children.  This case involved a personal injury action arising out of an incident involving a bullied student who was assaulted by a fellow student.  In this case, the Defendant’s lawyers brought motion seeking summary judgement dismissing the action in its entirety.  The Westchester Supreme Court held that our school injury lawyers proved that a reaonable jury could find that  the School District acted unreasonably in response to threats  made by our client's assailant before the attack occurred.

Our White Plains school injury lawyers proved that our client was being “bothered” by the other student a day before the fight took place and that the other student engaged in a pattern of escalating harassment and “tried to start something with him” by bumping into him, looking at him in a menacing fashion, and cracking his knuckles at him.  Our client felt disturbed enough by this behavior  that he complained to the staff and the Principal the day before the incident. The administration told him that they would talk to kid, however, the assailant continued to bother our client.  The following day, the behavior continued, and the assailant contined bumping into our client deliberately.  This prompted our client to speak to a school monitor, who told the thug to, “Knock it off”.   This apparently had no effect, because he continued to bother our client throughout the rest of the day. Towards the end of the day, our client went to see the Principal and Assistant Principal to complain again about the harassing behavior . However, when he got there, the secretary told our client that they were tied up, and that he should return to class.  No one else came to class thereafter and no one took the time to find out what was wrong.  At the end of the school day, our client exited the building  and was jumped by the same kid who had been intimidating him, and sustained serious injuries including a fracture, in the few minutes before the staff broke up the fight.

Schools are under a duty to adequately supervise the students in their charge and they will be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision.  New York Courts have recognized that schools, in assuming physical custody and control over its students, effectively takes the place of parents and guardians, therefore, a teacher owes it to his students to exercise such care of them as a parent of ordinary prudence would observe in comparable circumstances In cases of injuries from bullying, the critical issue is whether the adequacy of a school’s supervision was the proximate cause of a student’s injury. The standard for determining whether a school was negligent in executing its supervisory responsibility is whether a parent of ordinary prudence, placed in the identical situation and armed with the same information, would invariably have provided greater supervision. The duty to provide adequate supervision has been breached when “school authorities had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused injury; that is, that the third-party acts could reasonably have been anticipated. Imposition of liability upon the school under a theory of negligent supervision is justified when a plaintiff can show, by virtue of the school's prior knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused the injury, that the acts of the fellow student could reasonably have been anticipated. New York Jurisprudence has recognized in a bullying situation, it is enough that the plaintiff show that the other student had previously exhibited violent tendencies, which should have placed the School on notice that given the opportunity, the fellow student would assault the bullied student in the future and that a cause of action for negligent supervision, where school fails to adequately address the ongoing harassment. New York  Courts have also recognized that a student who was assaulted by another student, can make a prima facie showing of negligent supervision by establishing that the assailant student's disciplinary record demonstrated a proclivity towards violence, and the school failed to intervene in escalating bullying by the assailant.

Our Westchester school bullying injury lawyers recommend that if your child is being bullied, make complaints to the school in writing, so they cannot deny knowing that there was a problem. In our recent case, however, the School district tried to claim that they didn't know about the bullying or that a physical altercation between the two children was imminent or that an altercation would occur in the future, thus it  was not on notice of any problem.  Plaintiff’s Westchester personal injury lawyers, however, proved that Defendants were aware that the assailant had prior problems and aggressive/violent tendencies including time in prison during a previous year at the school, in spite of that Defendants failed to speak to him, after our client went to see the Principal and Assistant Principal to complain. Plaintiff’s lawyers also argued that while the school was under no obligation to drop everything to speak to him, they negligently failed to designate another administrator or staff member to speak to him, and failed to give him  an appointment when he could return at a better time.   By so doing, the school turned their back on an escalating dangerous situation.

The adequacy of a school’s supervision of its students is generally a question left to the trier of fact to resolve, as is the question of whether inadequate supervision was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. In this case the Court found that the School failed to demonstrate  that his conduct was reasonable and appropriate such that it properly discharged its duty towards our client. The court thus denied defendant’s motion in its entirety. Our White Plains Personal Injury lawyers, will continue to fight for people who sustain personal injuries related to inadequate school supervision and who are injured because the school did not take reasonable efforts to prevent bullying.

 

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