In a case involving claims of negligence and negligent supervision, the California Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s finding that a student assumed the risk of injury by break dancing in a classroom. The teacher in this case had violated school policy by leaving students unsupervised in his classroom. At issue on appeal was whether there were viable theories of liability, since the school did in fact owe a duty to the injured student, and he had not assumed the risk of injury inherent in the activity.
Plaintiff Uriel Jiminez was a 14-year-old student at a middle school within Roseville City School District (“School”). He was injured while break dancing in an unsupervised room. The teacher had not thought it necessary to inform the school he had opened his class for early morning activity, and he did not think it necessary to supervise the children at all times.
The trial court found that break dancing can in fact involve flips and that Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by voluntarily break dancing. According to the trial court, School had no duty to protect Plaintiff from the inherent risks of break dancing. Plaintiff appealed.
The appellate court stated that the doctrine of assumption of risk is a bar to recovery. Primary assumption of risk applies when the defendant owes the plaintiff no duty to guard against a particular risk of harm. Secondary assumption of risk involves examining the duty that exists between the defendant and the plaintiff, and examining the nature of the activity. When secondary assumption of risk applies, the court may look at comparative fault and apportion loss.
The court stated this case was about the liability of a school for a teacher’s violation of school rules by allowing students to engage in risky behavior in his classroom without supervision. School had a duty to supervise students engaged in a potentially dangerous activity. Plaintiff was suing School because he was under School’s care, on its premises, when an employee who knew or should have known students were “flipping” nevertheless left the students unsupervised. The court stated that a jury could find the lack of supervision caused Plaintiff’s injuries.
Regarding whether there was evidence of negligent supervision, the court stated that a jury may find that School’s failure to communicate rules about supervision, and the lack of supervision, may have breached a duty of care owed to Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s choice to flip, at the request of peers, may trigger secondary assumption of risk.
The court stated that schools for minor children have a duty to ensure the safety of the students, to supervise at all times the conduct of the students, and to enforce rules necessary to their protection. Cases have held that adolescent boys should also not be held to the standard of judgment for adults, since they are not fully mature. A few cases, cited by the appellate court, have held that children should not be together, unsupervised, in classrooms to engage in physical activities that may spiral into dangerous activities. The court stated that in the case at hand, the teachers were not trained properly, and that Plaintiff met his burden of pleading negligent supervision.
The appellate court also stated there was a triable issue of fact regarding whether School increased the risk of harm to Plaintiff through neglect. The court reversed the lower court’s judgment, denying the summary judgment motion.
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