Thursday, July 21, 2016

Seattle Schools Loses in Court

From Soup for Teachers' Facebook page:
Seattle public schools just lost an appeal by a student who sued after he was injured in an incident where another student assaulted him at Aki Kurose. New trial ordered.
The case is from an incident in 2006.  Wow.

The crux of the matter seems to be an instruction to the jury:
It is well established that a school district has a special relationship and a duty to use reasonable care to protect students in its custody from foreseeable harm. Hopkins contends the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the special relationship and duty of the School District. Because the court's instructions allowed the jury to apply an ordinary negligence standard without regard to the special relationship and duty of the School District, we reverse the judgment on the verdict, and remand for a new trial.
Page five lays out these instructions that the plaintiff wanted but the District's attorney said the instructions were "incorrect, misleading and argumentative."  The judge in the first case said they were "argumentative and inflammatory."

Read them for yourself; I'm not sure I see the District's point clearly.

The Court ended up giving the parties its proposed jury instructions that did not include notice of the "special relationship and duty of the School District to protect students in its custody on foreseeability."

Facts of the case:

In 2006, James Hopkins Jr. and E.E. were students at Aki Kurose Middle School. E.E. attended special education classes except for physical education (PE). On June 7, 2006, E.E. and Hopkins were in the boys' locker room after PE class. E.E. punched Hopkins in the back of his head. Hopkins fell to the ground and broke his jaw.

On November 1, 2013, Hopkins filed a lawsuit against Seattle School District No. 1 (School District). Hopkins asserted claims for negligence and negligent supervision. The complaint alleged the School District knew E.E. "was a danger to himself and/or others." 
The complaint alleged the School District"owed a duty to Hopkins to supervise its employees to ensure Hopkins would be free from physical harm while under the custody and  control"of the School District. The School District denied the allegations and asserted a number of affirmative defenses.

In his motion for summary judgment on liability, Hopkins cited the leading case on the special relationship and the duty the School District owed to protect him from foreseeable harm, McLeod v. Grant County School District No. 128. 42 Wn.2d 316, 255 P.2d360(1953). Hopkins argued the undisputed facts showed the School District breached the duty to protect him from foreseeable harm.
The District argued it didn't breach its duty and said that the plaintiff was
contributorially negligent in provoking the assault and by failing to mitigate or reduce his damages, and that the assailant, known by the initials E.E., was the proximate cause of plaintiffs injury. The plaintiff denies these claims.
 The plaintiff says the District knew E.E. was "likely to assault other students."

Case law used (page 10):

The relationship here in question is that of school district and school child. It is not a voluntary relationship. The child is compelled to attend school.He must yield obedience to school rules and discipline formulated and enforced pursuant to statute. . . . The result is that the protective custody of teachers is mandatorily substituted for that of the parent. 
The duty which this relationship places upon the school district has been stated in the Briscoe case ... as follows:

"As a correlative of this right on the part of a school district to enforce, as against the pupils, rules and regulations prescribed by the state board of education and the superintendent of public instruction, a duty is imposed by law on the school district to take certain precautions to protect the pupils in its custody from dangers reasonably to be anticipated."
So the facts of the case are not in question nor is the issue of whether the plaintiff provoked the attack but it hinges on jury instructions.

3 comments:

Joseph Rockne said...

The Appellate Court agreed with the appellants that certain jury instructions should have been given and remanded for a new trial. The original jury found the district not negligent. I wonder if a change in jury instructions will a difference if there is a second trial.

King County juries can be pretty defense friendly.

Anonymous said...

The plaintiff should have contacted sped ptsa. This a long existing pattern. But if you don't do your homework, it looks like a one time anomaly, which it definitely is not.

Speddie

mirmac1 said...

Speddie, your long-time institutional memory of these transgressions should far outweigh the gripes and complaints about how you convey these inconvenient truths. Thank you!