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Law School Case Brief

Garcia v. City of N.Y. - 222 A.D.2d 192, 646 N.Y.S.2d 508 (App. Div. 1996)

Rule:

At recess periods, not less than in the class room, a teacher owes it to his charges to exercise such care of them as a parent of ordinary prudence would observe in comparable circumstances. This duty derives from the fact that the school, once it takes over physical custody and control of the children, effectively takes the place of their parents and guardians. It has also been noted that whether the actions of a school, or its board members, are adequate and reasonable and, if they are not, whether the negligence is the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries, are almost always questions of fact.

Facts:

On Oct. 27, 1988, plaintiff D.G., a five-year-old kindergarten student at a school operated by defendants New York City (City) and New York City Board of Education (Board), was permitted to go to the bathroom alone, where he was anally molested by an individual believed to be an older student at the school. The infant's mother filed an action on behalf of D.G. in New York state court alleging negligence in permitting the attack on D.C. when the attack was reasonably foreseeable. he Board moved to dismiss the complaint at the close of evidence, which was denied by the trial court. The jury found that the kindergarten teacher breached her duty of care by permitting D.G. to go to the bathroom unaccompanied and that allowing D.G. to proceed to the bathroom alone was the proximate cause of the injuries. Following the jury's verdict, the City moved to dismiss the verdict, which was also denied by the trial court in a written order dated March 28, 1995. The City appealed.

Issue:

Could the Board be found liable for the sexual assault of D.G., a kindergarten student who was sent to the school bathroom alone and unsupervised?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The lower court's order was affirmed. The appellate court found that it could not decide, as a matter of law, that the school, acting in loco parentis, performed in a reasonably prudent manner, as an ordinary parent would, when it sent the five-year old D.G. to the bathroom unattended. Further, in view of the school's written security guidelines concerning young children, coupled with the principal's testimony clearly indicating an awareness of the risks to unescorted students in school corridors and bathrooms, the appellate court found that the jury could reasonably have come to the conclusion that the danger of the assault that occurred was foreseeable and preventable by proper supervision.

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