Key point 10-11. A church may be legally responsible on the basis of negligent supervision for injuries resulting from a failure to exercise adequate supervision of its programs and activities.
A New York state appeals court ruled that a school was not responsible for severe injuries sustained by a 3-year-old preschool student. The student was struck by a car when he ran onto a busy street adjacent to school property after he had been picked up by his mother at the end of the school day. A 3-year-old child was a student at a public school that included “pre-kindergarten” instruction. The victim had been released from school to his mother inside the school, near his classroom, at 2:30 p.m. Thereafter, the mother, the victim, and the victim’s sister went outside and, while the mother was speaking to another parent on the sidewalk around the corner from where they had left the school, the victim ran into the street from between two parked buses and was struck by a car.
The victim’s mother sued various defendants, including the city and board of education, alleging negligent supervision. The municipal defendants asked the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court declined to do so. A state appeals court reversed this ruling, and ordered the lawsuit dismissed. The appeals court began its opinion by observing:
A school’s duty to supervise the students in its charge arises from its physical custody over them. The rationale underlying this duty is that when a school takes custody of a child, it deprives the child of the protection of his or her parents or guardian, and thus must give the child the protection of which the child has been deprived. For this reason, a school’s duty to supervise is generally viewed as being “coextensive with and concomitant to its physical custody of and control over the child. When that custody ceases because the child has passed out of the orbit of its authority in such a way that the parent is perfectly free to reassume control over the child’s protection, the school’s custodial duty also ceases … .”
The municipal defendants made a prima facie showing of their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that they had released the infant to the [mother’s] custody and, thus, he was no longer in the custody of the municipal defendants when the accident occurred.
What This Means For Churches:
This court affirmed the general rule that schools are responsible for the safety of children in their custody. When custody is transferred back to a parent at the end of a school day, the school ceased to be responsible for injuries that may occur, even on church property, since the responsibility for supervising the child has transferred back to the parent. Courts that recognize this rule likely would apply it to churches and church schools. Giresi v. City of New York, 3 N.Y.S.3d 88 (N.Y. App. 2015).