Schools denied blame for student's fall during team activity
|Negligent Supervision, Premises Liability - Dangerous Condition, Slips, Trips & Falls - Fall from Height|
|Rebecca Linthwaite v. Mount Sinai Union Free School District and Sachem School District, No. 26360/09|
|Suffolk Supreme, NY|
|Joseph C. Pastoressa
- A. Craig Purcell; Glynn Mercep and Purcell, LLP; Stony Brook, NY, for Rebecca Linthwaite
- Jonathan Rexford Ames; Donohue, McGahan & Catalano; Jericho, NY, for Sachem School District
- James J. LeydenJr.; Congdon, Flaherty, O'Callaghan, Reid, Donlon, Travis & Fishlinger; Uniondale, NY, for Mount Sinai Union Free School District
- New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal for both defendants
On April 16, 2008, plaintiff Rebecca Linthwaite, 18, a student at Mount Sinai High School, in Mount Sinai, participated in a school activity that was conducted at Sachem High School, in the hamlet of Lake Ronkonkoma. The activity was coordinated by Project Adventure, an experiential education program that often involves physical challenges. Linthwaite and other students were attempting to scale a 12-foot-high wall, and the exercise was intended to promote teamwork in that the students were expected to help each other scale the wall. Linthwaite fell backward while she was standing atop the wall, helping another student. She landed on the ground, and she sustained an injury of a shoulder.
Linthwaite sued Mount Sinai High School's operator, the Mount Sinai Union Free School District, and Sachem High School's operator, the Sachem School District. She alleged that the districts failed to provide proper supervision of the activity. She further alleged that the activity area was dangerous.
Plaintiff's counsel contended that the districts were negligent for failing to ensure that no students fell from the wall or were injured during the activity. He claimed that the students should have been provided harnesses, ropes or other safety equipment. He also claimed that cushions, mats and pads should have been placed around the base of the wall.
The court heard testimony by a certified Project Adventure trainer. The witness opined that the class was about taking risks and that the risk level on the wall was appropriate to the lesson. He further testified that, during the course of several years working at Project Adventure, he had never experienced a similar accident.
Defense counsel contended that there was an inherent risk, given the nature of the class, and that Linthwaite accepted the risk by voluntarily joining the class and participating in the activity.
Defense counsel also noted that Linthwaite's fall was somewhat arrested by students on the ground that were spotting the students on the wall, and he argued that the premises were not dangerous, given that students were spotting at the bottom of the wall. He further contended that ropes were not necessary, as risk was involved in the event and there were students spotting at the bottom of the wall.
Two supervising teachers who witnessed the event contended that the accident was a fluke and not the result of negligence.
The trial was bifurcated. Damages were not before the court.
Linthwaite sustained a separation of her left, nondominant shoulder's acromioclavicular joint. She was initially transported to a doctor, but she later went to a hospital, where her left arm was placed in a sling. She subsequently underwent six weeks of physical therapy that was typically rendered twice a week. Linthwaite contended that her injury did not heal properly and that she suffers a slight deformity of her left shoulder.
Linthwaite sought recovery of damages for past and future pain and suffering.
Defense counsel contended that Linthwaite sustained a merely minor injury and bears only a small bump of a deformity.
The jury rendered a defense verdict.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.