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How New York Schools Can Be Held Liable in Negligence - Even For Accidents That Occur Off School Grounds

As noted in "How to Prove Your School Negligence Case Under New York Law," generally speaking, a school cannot be held liable in negligence for injuries that occur to its students off school grounds or outside school hours.

And the reason for this rule is logical; to hold otherwise would potentially create almost endless liability for schools and the municipalites that oversee them.

But there is a narrow - and important - exception to this rule: "when the school releases a child without further supervision into a foreseeably hazardous setting it had a hand in creating." Ernest v. Red Creek Cent. School Dist., 93 N.Y.2d 664, 717 N.E.2d 690, 695 N.Y.S.2d 531 (1999). In those cases, a school may still be held liable for accidents that occur outside the school's orbit of authority.

In Ernest, the nine-year-old infant-plaintiff was dismissed from his second grade class at Cuyler Elementary School, which was part of a larger school district. Like the other students at his school, he had to cross the county highway where the school was located highway in order to get home. But when he attempted to cross on that fateful day, he was hit by a truck and severely injured.

In reversing the trial and appellate courts' orders dismissing the negligent supervision claims against the school district which were based upon the fact that the accident occurred off of school grounds and after school hours, the Court of Appeals held as follows:

"MacDonald stands for the proposition that a school district's duty of care requires continued exercise of control and supervision in the event that release of the child poses a foreseeable risk of harm (see also, Bell v. Board of Educ., 90 N.Y.2d 944, 665 N.Y.S.2d 42, 687 N.E.2d 1325 [school held liable for negligent supervision off school property] ).

"Pratt v. Robinson, 39 N.Y.2d 554, 384 N.Y.S.2d 749, 349 N.E.2d 849, relied upon by the courts below, is distinguishable. The plaintiff schoolchild in that case was hit by a truck while she was walking across a street on her way home "several blocks away from the [bus] stop" (id., at 559, 384 N.Y.S.2d 749, 349 N.E.2d 849 [emphasis supplied] ). We held that, "the children having been set down in a safe spot, and nothing untoward having occurred in the course of their disembarkation, * * * [the school] bore no further duty to the child" (id., at 560, 384 N.Y.S.2d 749, 349 N.E.2d 849 [emphasis supplied]).

"Contrastingly here, [the infant-plaintiff] was not released to a safe spot but to a foreseeably hazardous setting partly of the School District's making. Thus, while a school has no duty to prevent injury to schoolchildren released in a safe and anticipated manner, the school breaches a duty when it releases a child without further supervision into a foreseeably hazardous setting it had a hand in creating."