How NYCDOE Got Precluded From Contesting a Negligence Claim
Granted, it's rare. But there are occasions where a defendant will get precluded from contesting its liability for plaintiff's negligence claims. The New York County trial court's decision in A.L. & Loo v. City of New York & New York City Dept. of Education is precisely one such case.
What Happened in A.L. & Loo v. New York City Dept. of Education
In this case, the infant plaintiff, through his mother, claimed that he sustained serious personal injuries as the result of an assault on the playground by a fellow student. The infant further claimed that this assault took place after several threats by the assaulting student over a prolonged period of time, but the school aides negligently failed to intervene and prevent the assault from occurring.
As a result, the plaintiff demanded discovery from the school pertaining to the training of the school aide, and also demanded that the school produce a witness for deposition that was knowledgeable about the aides' training.
The school did neither, however.
According to the trial court, after insisting at a court conference that Ms. Clara Harvey was the one most knowledgeable about the aides' training, her deposition revealed that she had no knowledge about this subject whatsoever.
Moreover, the school only began its search for its handbook that was in effect at the time of occurrence six years post-incident, and three years after the initial demand was made. But by that time, no copies of that handbook could be found anymore.
The defendants then moved to dismiss the action on the grounds that "no reasonable level of supervision could have prevented plaintiff's accident."
What the Court Did
As one of my friends would say, "The Court was having none of it."
Here's are some money quotes from the decision:
"[D]efendants would have this court believe that minutes of taunting and exchanging curse words (as recounted by the infant plaintiff) did not require any intervention and would not have stopped the situation from escalating. This court cannot agree ...
"Contrary to defendants' contentions, the information is relevant, and defendants cannot simply ignore their obligation to provide discovery. Defendants incredulously put the burden on plaintiffs to find out who is responsible for training student aides when that knowledge is undoubtedly within the knowledge of defendants and its employees ...
"Defendants also incredulously claim that [plaintiffs' motion to strike their answer] is 'frivolous and a waste of judicial resources' when defendants failed to respond to demands and failed to comply with court orders, conference after conference and good faith letter after good faith letter, frustrating the parties from proceeding with discovery and moving the case forward ...
"The pattern of noncompliance represents to the court that the failure to provide disclosure was willful ... Accordingly, this court finds that this warrants an appropriate sanction ... that defendants are precluded from offering evidence as to their liability."
At first blush, any plaintiff's attorney who has litigated against a municipality or school is surely cheering this decision. Municipal defendants are notorious for their ability to get away with seemingly endless extensions of time to provide discovery, and even then, providing only partial responses that are unhelpful.
The flip side to that coin is that it took this plaintiff several years before they were able to get this decision, and that serves as a cautionary tale about the cost to suing a municipality.
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