California School District Escapes Liability in Carnival Injury Case

In a recent state appellate opinion, a California appellate court dismissed a plaintiff’s claim that arose after the plaintiff was injured at a carnival which was held on school grounds. The issue before the court was whether the school district could be held liable based on the placement and operation of an inflatable slide, which the plaintiff claimed was a hazardous condition.

According to the court’s opinion, a school booster group held the carnival at the school as a fundraising event. The group organized the event, and chose the company that provided the inflatable slide, and supervised its set-up and use. During the carnival, the plaintiff’s three-year-old son climbed up the slide, but was scared to go down, so the plaintiff ascended the slide in order to retrieve his son. As the plaintiff was on the slide, it suddenly deflated and tipped over. The plaintiff sued the school district for his injuries, alleging that the district was at fault because the slide was not tethered to the ground and because it was placed in a dangerous location.

Under Section 38134 of California’s Education Code, a public school is designated as a “civic center,” which means that it must allow nonprofit organizations to use school grounds for youth and school activities. Section 38134 specifically divides liability between school districts and the entities that use school grounds. The statute provides that a school district is liable for injuries that result from the school district’s negligence “in the ownership and maintenance of the school facilities or grounds.” In contrast, an entity that uses school facilities or grounds is liable for injuries that result from the entity’s negligence “during the use of the school facilities or grounds.” In addition, an entity using school grounds is responsible for obtaining insurance to protect against the risk of liability.

The court decided that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from the alleged negligence of the booster group and others during the use of the school grounds, rather than from the school district’s ownership and maintenance of the grounds. The court explained that the plaintiff’s negligence claim was based on the negligent setup and operation of the inflatable slide, and that the school district did not play a role in planning, setting up, or supervising the inflatable slide. The court noted that the purpose of this law allocating liability was to hold school districts accountable for their own negligence in owning and managing school grounds, while also precluding the “inadvertent broadening of school district liability.” The plaintiff’s claim was based on liability resulting from the alleged negligence of the booster group “during the use of the school facilities or grounds.” The court held that this liability falls specifically on the booster group under Section 38134.

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