Perhaps it's a bit strange to hear this coming from a New York school negligence attorney, but here is the unvarnished truth:


Just because an accident happens at school doesn't automatically mean that the school is, or should be, held responsible for the accident.


Rather, as we've pointed out before (see, e.g., "How to Prove Your School Negligence Claim Under New York Law"), the litmus test for a school's liability for an accident is whether they knew, or should have known, about a dangerous condition on their grounds and during school hours, yet failed to take appropriate measures to remedy the condition.


In a split decision that was handed down on May 29 in the case of Hunter v. New York City Dept. of Education, a majority of the appeals court reversed the Bronx trial court's ruling that denied the City's motion to dismiss the case, holding "[T]he classmate's spontaneous act of stepping backwards from a chalkboard and falling is an example of such a thoughtless or careless act that could not have been prevented by reasonable supervision."


There was a vigorous two-justice dissent, however, which noted that one of the teachers had warned the child by the chalkboard to be careful, because she apparently recognized that a dangerous condition existed beforehand.


From a purely legal/technical standpoint, I understand the dissent's view, and so long as any reasonable juror could find in the plaintiff's favor, the case should not be dismissed on papers. But from a broader perspective, I have serious doubts that a jury will agree with the plaintiff's claims, and therefore, I think they would lose at trial. In other words, defeating the motion to dismiss would be a truly Pyrrhic victory.


Taking this analysis further, I don't think this case should have been brought in the first place.

Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
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