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Absent "Special Relationship," NY Municipality Cannot Be Held Liable For Playground Assault

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Jonathan Cooper
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In light of the overwhelming precedent that effectively barred this suit from the get-go, I do not understand why this case was ever filed.

In Ruiz v. City of New York, a New York County case that was decided on February 22 and reported in tomorrow's edition of The New York Law Journal, the plaintiff was assaulted in a New York City playground by other children who were wearing boxing gloves. Predictably, the plaintiff sustained fairly serious personal injuries as a result of the assault, and then sued the City, asserting that it was negligent in failing to properly maintain, manage or supervise the playground.

In granting the City's motion to dismiss, however, the Court cited the long-standing principle that "once it is determined that the municipality was exercising a governmental (as opposed to proprietary) function, it can only be found liable if there is a "special relationship" between the municipality and the claimant. The elements of this "special relationship" are: "(1) an assumption by the municipality, through promises or action, of an affirmative duty to act on behalf of the party who was injured; (2) knowledge on the part of the municipality's agents that inaction could lead to harm; (3) some form of direct contact between the municipality's agents and the injured party; and (4) that party's justifiable reliance on the municipality's affirmative undertaking." Cuffy v. City of New York, 69 N.Y.2d 255, 260-61 (1987).

Not surprisingly, the instances where a plaintiff successfully proved the existence of a "special relationship" that was sufficient to charge a municipality with liability for playground or school assaults have been rare indeed. (For one example, see "How To Prove Your School Negligence Case"). Under the circumstances, I have to assume that the plaintiff's injuries were quite significant, and that the plaintiff's attorney was willing to take a chance that he could defeat the dispositive motion that was likely (and, in fact did) to come; otherwise, I cannot see why anyone would even try to bring this lawsuit.

Category: School Negligence / Personal Injury

Jonathan Cooper
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