In a split decision that was handed down this past week by Upstate New York's Appellate Division, Third Department, a NY Appeals Court dismissed a negligence claim brought by parents of four young children who were sexually abused at a school by a high school student - even though this student engaged in the abuse of these 6 year-old boys on three (3) separate occasions.
At this point you may be wondering, "While I could understand that the school might not be able to prevent every single act, how can it be that this student was able to perpetrate this abuse three times without the school having the faintest idea what was going on?" Apparently, both the trial court and one justice on this appellate panel felt the same way.
But a majority of the appellate court felt differently, noting that the student who committed these assaults had no disciplinary history that would have alerted the school to be wary of him perpetrating these kinds of acts. In addition, relying on long-held precedent, the majority stated that "A school is not on notice that children are being abused merely because they returned late to class on two or three occasions, especially when they explained their lateness by saying that the group of them stopped at the bathroom."
To be sure, this is not an easy school negligence case to prove. However, given the potential damages in this case (and that one of the appellate justices dissented, and would presumably agree to grant the plaintiffs leave to appeal to New York State's highest court - the Court of Appeals), I would not be surprised in the least if the plaintiffs try to appeal this ruling.