Cases About School's Responsibility for Child's Safety In New York

The courts have long recognized that a school district owes its students a duty to exercise the same duty of care towards them as a reasonably prudent parent would exercise under similar circumstances and that it may be held liable for the foreseeable injuries proximately caused by the absence of supervision (Lawes v. Board of Education, 16 N.Y.2d 302, 266 N.Y.S.2d 364, 213 N.E.2d 667). In Pratt v. Robinson, the Court of Appeals described the school district's duty toward its students as follows: The duty owed by a school to its students, however, stems from the fact of its physical custody over them. As the Restatement puts it, by taking custody of the child, the school has 'deprived (the child) of the protection of his parents or guardian. Therefore the actor who takes custody of a child is properly required to give him the protection which the custody or the manner in which it is taken has deprived him' (Restatement of Torts 2d, 320 comment b). The school's duty is thus coextensive with and concomitant to its physical custody of and control over the child. When that custody ceases because the child has passed out of the orbit of its authority in such a way that the parent is perfectly free to reassume control over the child's protection, the school's custodial duty also ceases" ( Pratt v. Robinson, 39 N.Y.2d 554, 384 N.Y.S.2d 749, 349 N.E.2d 849) It is also well settled that schools are not the insurers of safety of their students (Cerni v. Zambrana, 271 A.D.2d 566,706 N.Y.S.2d 153). It has thus been held that where a student, voluntarily and through his own action, removes himself from the school grounds, he may no longer look to the school district to protect him (Youngs v. Bay Shore Union Free School District, 258 A.D.2d 580, 686 N.Y.S.2d 444; see also, Bushnell v. Berne-Knox-Westerloo School Dist., Sup Ct, Albany County Supreme Court, Hughes, J., aff'd., 125 A.D.2d 859, 510 N.Y.S.2d 488). Accordingly, accidents that occur beyond the parameters of the property of the school district are generally not actionable ( Bertrand v. Board of Education of City of New York, 272 A.D.2d 355, 707 N.Y.S.2d 218; Tarnaras v. Farmingdale School District, 264 A.D.2d 391, 694 N.Y.S.2d 413). It has also been held that there is no duty on the part of the school district to prevent a student from going home in a fellow student's car instead of embarking on a school bus (Cerni v. Zambrana, 706 N.Y.S.2d 153, 271 A.D.2d 566) or to compel students to ride a school bus home ( Wenger v. Goodell, 220 A.D.2d 937, 632 N.Y.S.2d 865). Nevertheless, off-campus accidents may give rise to liability where it is shown that the school district breached some other duty owing to the student plaintiff such as one that it especially assumed by some fully communicated, affirmative action beneficial to the student plaintiff who relied thereon to his or her detriment (Wenger v. Goodell, 220 A.D.2d 937, 632 N.Y.S.2d 865, supra); or its independent duty to safely transport students within its physical custody ( Bruce v. Hasbrouk 207 A.D.2d 1,620 N.Y.S.2d 562; aff'd sub-non Chaini v. Board of Education, 87 N.Y.2d 370; 639 N.Y.S.2d 971, 663 N.E.2d 283); or its duty to prevent the unsupervised release of student within its charge into a forseeably hazardous setting which the school district had a hand in creating ( Ernest v. Red Creek Cent. School Dist, 93 N.Y.2d 664, 695 N.Y.S.2d 531, 717 N.E.2d 690).