Second Department Rules in Favor of Defendant School in Falling Debris Case

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department reversed a trial court order that denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss in a personal injury case involving falling debris.

The plaintiff was a teenage student at Locust Valley High School at the time of the accident. The plaintiff volunteered with the high school’s stage crew. On the day of the incident, the plaintiff was walking down a hallway. Alongside the hallway was a series of shelves. A stick was protruding from a shelf. The plaintiff bumped into the stick. In order to move it out of the way, the plaintiff decided to pick up the stick and put it on the top shelf. The plaintiff was unable to see the top shelf, so he attempted to blindly place the stick on the shelf. While doing so, he felt the stick hit something and push something off of the shelf. In that instant, two wood boards fell off of the shelf and landed on him, injuring him.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the high school, alleging premises liability. The plaintiff claimed that not only were the loose wooden boards a dangerous condition but also that the school failed to properly supervise the plaintiff.

Under premises liability, the plaintiff must prove the cause of his injury, that the injury resulted from a defective or dangerous condition on the property, and that the property owner either created the dangerous condition or was aware of it. If it is questionable whether the condition is dangerous or defective, then the jury must decide. However, if the plaintiff does not submit any evidence to prove the condition was dangerous and defective, then the defendant will win the summary judgment motion.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. As part of its evidence, it presented the plaintiff’s testimony from a General Municipal Law 50-h hearing in Nassau County. At the hearing, the plaintiff said that he inadvertently pushed the two planks of wood off of the shelf. The wood would not have otherwise fallen. The Appellate Court determined that the trial court should have granted the defendant’s motion or summary judgment. In the Court’s view, it was clear from the evidence and testimony that while the two planks did cause the injury, the two planks without being touched were not a dangerous condition.

The plaintiff also claimed that the hallway in general was a dangerous condition due to its state of disarray. However, the Second Department disagreed. In addition, the plaintiff argued that the lighting in the hallway was inadequate. However, the plaintiff had previously testified that the lighting was moderate and didn’t cause any issues with the plaintiff seeing where he was walking.

Finally, the plaintiff claimed that the school was negligent in supervising him. In New York, schools have a duty to supervise students in their care and are liable for any foreseeable injuries that occur due to the lack of adequate supervision. While a school cannot be reasonably expected to ensure complete safety of its students and to control all of their actions, it does need to adequately supervise them.

Here, however, the plaintiff was an older child and was voluntarily participating in an after-school activity at the school campus. Thus, the defendant was able to prove in its motion for summary judgment that it was not negligent in its supervision of the plaintiff.

The Second Department found that the plaintiff failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact sufficient enough to rebut the defendant’s prima face entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. As such, the trial court should have granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on someone else’s property, you have options. A landowner has a duty to maintain his premise in a safe condition. If injured, you may have a premises liability claim for personal injury damages. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Gallivan & Gallivan today to discuss your options.

Rant v. Locust Val. High Sch., 123 AD3d 686 (2nd Dept. 2014).

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