• Key point. Churches that fail to adequately monitor or supervise children’s activities may be legally responsible for resulting injuries on the basis of negligent supervision. However, they may be excused from liability for injuries occurring as a result of unforeseeable criminal activity.
A New York court found a school not liable on the basis of negligent supervision for the rape of a 12—year—old girl that occurred when she left a school outing without permission. The victim and her class of 30 students were attending a school outing at a public park. She left the group to have lunch at a nearby pizza restaurant. Upon returning to the park, she discovered that her class had left. Instead of returning to school, she walked home. While walking home she was abducted and raped by two adolescent males. The victim sued the school, claiming that her injuries were caused by its negligent supervision of the class outing. A jury found the school negligent, and awarded the victim $3 million in damages. The verdict was based in part on the testimony of an expert in school safety that the school had departed from “safe and common practices.” In particular, he noted the following: (1) there should have been at least one more adult supervising the group of 30 elementary—age children (only two adults were present during the outing); (2) students were not “paired off” as buddies; (3) arrangements were not made to have the class meet together at least once each hour while at the park; (4) students were not told that they could not leave the park alone; and (5) students were not told that they would only be dismissed from the outing after they returned to school. The safety expert also testified that the teacher in charge of the outing should have taken several steps immediately upon discovering that a child was missing. These included: (1) notifying the school immediately to seek guidance from his superiors; (2) notifying the park police; (3) asking another teacher to take the children back to school so he could continue the search for the missing child; (4) remaining in the park until shortly before dismissal time, to give the victim more time to return; and (5) notifying school officials upon his return that the victim was still missing.
The school appealed, and a state appeals court reversed the jury verdict and ruled that the school was not responsible for the victim’s injuries. It concluded that even if the school had negligently supervised the outing it could not be responsible for the victim’s injuries since “the unforeseeable conduct of [the two rapists] constituted a superseding tortious act that absolved the [school] of any culpability for [the victim’s] injuries.” In other words, if an organization is negligent in supervising a children’s activity, its negligence may not be a basis for liability if a child is injured as a result of an unforeseeable criminal act. The criminal act is a “superseding, intervening cause” of the victim’s injuries and absolves the organization of liability even though it may have been negligent. Bell v. Board of Education, 646 N.Y.S.2d 499 (A.D. 1996). [ Negligent Supervision]
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