Posted On: March 27, 2012 by Stephen Bilkis

One hundred and eighty sixth grade students of a public school in Bellmore, New York went on a field trip

One hundred and eighty sixth grade students of a public school in Bellmore, New York went on a field trip. They were accompanied by 8 classroom teachers, parent chaperones and teaching assistants. They visited the Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

The children were all divided into small groups of five or six students, each group with a responsible adult as leader. A girl and a boy were assigned to a small group assigned to a parent. Around 2pm, as they were nearing the end of the tour of the museum, the parent asked the kids to file out of the scuba exhibit and to walk into the next exhibit.

The children filed out but the parent stayed behind in the scuba exhibit. According to the girl, as they had finished the tour of the museum and were leaving the building, they saw an amusement ride and so that kids started running toward the amusement ride. The girl was walking and was not running but a boy came running from behind her and pushed her out of the way. As a result of being pushed, the girl tripped over the molding of an exhibit doorway and fell. She tried to break her fall with her hand and she broke her wrist. She had to undergo corrective surgery to mend the broken bone.

Her mother then filed this suit in damages against the school district for negligence. She alleges that the school, the teachers, the parent chaperones and the teaching assistants did not adequately supervise the children and were not properly trained to supervise the children.
The school district moved for a summary judgment of dismissal on the ground that the mother and the girl failed to provide evidentiary proof of the immediate cause of the girl’s injuries. The school district also maintained that negligence on their part was not proved.

The mother opposed the motion for summary judgment stating that supervision of the children just was not adequate during the field trip. She also asserted that the teachers organized a scavenger hunt during the museum tour which encouraged the students to run and this was what caused her daughter to trip and fall.

The Supreme Court opined that schools have a duty to adequately supervise their students and will be held liable for negligence if their students sustain foreseeable injuries because of a lack of adequate supervision. However, school cannot be expected to continuously supervise and control all of their students’ movements and activities. In order to prove that the school failed its duty to provide adequate supervision, the mother had to show that the school had specific knowledge or notice of a dangerous conduct of the boy which caused the injury such that the school could have reasonably anticipated the boy’s acts and simply did not do anything to prevent it.

The mother had to prove that the school teachers had actual or constructive notice of a prior and similar conduct of the boy which should have put them on guard because school teachers cannot be reasonably expected to guard against all of the sudden spontaneous acts that take place among the students.

Schools and their teachers cannot be made responsible for negligently failing to supervise their students if the act of the student was sudden, spontaneous, impulsive and unanticipated. The mother alleged that the boy had been running during the tour and was told to stop running several times. But the depositions show that each time the boy was told to stop running, he immediately stopped running.

The accident occurred in less than a minute so that even with the most intense supervision, none of the teachers or the parent chaperones could have prevented the accident.

The mother also claims that if the parent chaperone assigned to her daughter’s group did not lag behind in the scuba exhibit, the children would not have been left unsupervised. The Court found it unreasonable and unrealistic to require teachers to control each step of each student during the field trip.

The Supreme Court granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint.

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