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Law School Case Brief

Kleinknecht v. Gettysburg Coll. - 989 F.2d 1360 (3d Cir. 1993)


In order to prevail on a cause of action in negligence under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must establish: (1) a duty or obligation recognized by the law, requiring the actor to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a failure to conform to the standard required; (3) a causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual loss or damage resulting to the interests of another.


Drew Kleinknecht died of cardiac arrest while a student at Gettysburg College (College), which occurred during a practice session of its intercollegiate lacrosse team. His parents, Suzanne W. Kleinknecht and Richard P. Kleinknecht (Kleinknechts), filed this wrongful death and survival action against the College. The College filed an answer and a motion for summary judgment, which the district court initially denied, but then granted summary judgment on the College's motion for reconsideration. In its opinion, the court first held that the College had no duty to anticipate and guard against the chance of a fatal arrhythmia in a young and healthy athlete.  The district court also held that the actions taken by school employees following Drew's collapse were reasonable, and thus the College did not negligently breach any duty that might exist. 

In a footnote the district court observed that because it had found that the College owed no special duty of care to Drew, it was not necessary to reach the question whether the immunity that Pennsylvania's Good Samaritan law provides applied to any of the defendants. The district court nevertheless stated that if the immunity law were applicable, Head Coach Henry L. Janczyk and Assistant Coach Donald Anderson would not be immune because neither of them held the required certification.  The district court further opined, however, that student volunteer trainer Traci Moore would be shielded from liability, and that the College would also be immune because "the statutory context does not 'clearly indicate[]'. . . that the word 'person' does not apply to corporations . . . ." The Kleinknechts appealed.


Was the College’s failure to protect Drew from the risk of suffering a serious injury during an athletic event reasonable?




The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the issue of the College’s breach of its duty to the deceased. The appellate court held that it was foreseeable to the College that a member of the interscholastic lacrosse team could suffer a serious injury during an athletic event and, thus, the College’s failure to protect against such a risk was not reasonable. The appellate court also rejected the College’s argument that, as a corporation, it was included within the definition of the term "person" as used in 1 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8232(a). Thus, the College was not entitled to immunity under Pennsylvania Good Samaritan law.

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