Recent Developments in Connecticut Regarding Sexual Assaults and Church Vehicles

A Connecticut court ruled that a school was liable for the physical and sexual assaults inflicted on an elementary school student while riding on a school bus.

Church Law and Tax1998-07-01

Sexual Assaults and Church Vehicles

Key point. Churches and schools that transport children in a bus or van have a legal duty to maintain order and discipline, and to protect children from assaults by other passengers.

A Connecticut court ruled that a school was liable for the physical and sexual assaults inflicted on an elementary school student while riding on a school bus. While the case involved a public school rather than a church, the case will be directly relevant to any church that uses a bus or van to transport children. The victim was subjected to repeated physical and sexual abuse by older students while riding on the bus. The victim’s parents sued the bus driver and school, claiming that they both were responsible for their son’s injuries on the basis of negligence. A state appeals court ruled that the bus driver and school were liable. It noted that ordinarily there is “no duty to control the conduct of a third person to prevent harm to others unless there is a special relationship giving the injured party a right to such protection.” The court noted that such a relationship existed in this case:

[The driver and school] had a duty imposed by law to protect the [victim] from harm and to prevent the intentional harm to the school children in their care. Members and employees of boards of education stand as surrogate parents to their pupils. Part of this special relationship includes the duty to maintain order and discipline. There are, therefore, two bases for finding that the [driver and school are liable]. First [they] stood in the shoes of the parents of the children on the school bus and thus had a duty to protect them from the intentional acts of others, including other school children. Second, the duty … also extended to an obligation to maintain discipline and order. Having failed in that regard [they] may not now claim that their failure to prevent the very conduct they had a duty to prevent relieves them of liability.

Application. When a church or school transports children on a bus or van it is “standing in the shoes of” the children’s parents. This is the kind of “special relationship” that gives rise to a duty to protect those children from assaults by other children and to maintain discipline and order. Todd M. v. Richard L., 696 A.2d 1063 (Conn. Super. 1996).
[Negligence as a Basis for Liability]

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