• 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.
Negligence as a Basis for Liability
* A New York court ruled that a preschool could be liable on the basis of negligent supervision for injuries to a four-year-old child who fell down a flight of stairs after being struck by a plastic chair that was thrown by a fellow student. A four-year-old preschool student was injured when he fell down stairs after a fellow classmate threw a plastic chair. The children apparently had been instructed by their teacher to carry chairs from a room on the second floor to their classroom. After the incident, the victim and his mother sued the preschool, alleging negligent supervision. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit on the ground that the victim’s injuries resulted from the “sudden and unforeseeable act of another student.” The case was appealed, and a state appeals court ordered the case to proceed to trial. The court acknowledged that “schools are not insurers of their students’ safety since they cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of their movements and activities.” On the other hand, schools “have a duty to provide supervision to ensure the safety of those students in their charge, and are liable for foreseeable injuries caused by the absence of adequate supervision.” The court concluded that there was evidence that the preschool in this case breached its duty of providing adequate supervision, and so the trial court erred in dismissing it. The court conceded that an “extraordinary and unforeseeable act” (such as the other student’s throwing a plastic chair) could “sever the connection” between the preschool’s negligence and the victim’s injuries. but it concluded that the act of chair-throwing may have been foreseeable given the teacher’s instruction to the preschoolers to carry their chairs down a flight of stairs.
Application. This case is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that schools and churches are not automatically liable for every injury that occurs on their premises. As the court pointed out, “schools are not insurers of their students’ safety since they cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of their movements and activities.” This is a significant observation. Second, the case shows that while schools and churches cannot be expected to continuously supervise each child in their custody, they will be expected to provide “adequate supervision” and they may be liable for injuries that occur because of their lack of such supervision. Further, while an intervening “extraordinary and unforeseeable act” may prevent a school or church from being liable for its own negligence, this is not true if the intervening act was foreseeable. Kandkhorov v. Pinkhaov, 2003 WL 326658 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. 2003).
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