COURT “FLIPS” THE LOWER COURT’S RULING IN FINDING THAT PRIMARY ASSUMPTION OF RISK DID NOT APPLY TO BAR INJURED STUDENT’S NEGLIGENT SUPERVISION CLAIM AGAINST SCHOOL DISTRICT

The ruling in Jiminez v. Roseville City School District (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 594 is a cautionary tale to all schools concerning supervision of extracurricular activities on school grounds.  In Jiminez, the relevant facts are as follows:  The Plaintiff Uriel Jiminez (“Jiminez”) was a 14-year old middle school student.  Jimenez was part of a group of students who were practicing break dancing on school grounds.  One of the teachers (not a trained break dancing instructor) allowed the group to use his classroom for practice to participate in a talent show.  The group had practiced in the teacher’s room on several occasions before the date of the incident.  On the date of the incident, the teacher momentarily left the room, as he done in the past, and Jiminez performed a flip as part of the break dancing and was severely injured.

Prior to the date of the injury, the Assistant Principal had seen group members doing flips and told them to stop, but did not disseminate this information or a warning to the teachers to be on alert for this.   The teacher who lent his classroom for the activity was not aware that flipping was part of the practice sessions.  The operative complaint alleged negligence and negligent supervision.  The lower court granted the District’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Jiminez had assumed the risk of injury by participating in break dancing.

In reversing the judgment, the Jiminez Court noted that schools can be immune from liability when students are injured while engaging in school sanctioned activities that are inherently dangerous.  The court stated that in such cases the primary assumption of risk doctrine acts as a complete bar to recovery.  The court gave examples of such activities including an errantly thrown ball in baseball or a carelessly extended elbow in basketball.  Such risks, according to the court, are considered inherent risks of those respective sports.  Citing expert testimony in the case, which concluded that engaging in flips was not inherent to break dancing and normally occurred only when the participant also had gymnastic ability, the court found that it was disputable whether flipping was in fact an inherent part of break dancing.   As such, the court found that the primary assumption of risk doctrine did not provide immunity to the District with respect to the injuries sustained by Jiminez.

Finding that the primary assumption of risk doctrine did not bar recovery in this case, the court held that Jiminez presented evidence to support his claim that the District was negligent under Government Code section 815.2[1] and Education Code section 44807[2] for negligent supervision (the teacher left the classroom during the activity) and there was evidence that the school could be liable for increasing the risks associated with break dancing by failing to warn students and teachers that flipping at the school was not allowed.   In fact, the teacher who opened his classroom testified that he was not even aware that flipping was involved in break dancing.

The takeaway from the findings and holding in Jiminez is that when students are engaging in traditional sports or activities that involve inherent risks of injury to voluntary participants where the risk cannot be eliminated without altering the fundamental nature of the activity (such as football, wrestling, basketball, etc.) the primary assumption of risk doctrine may provide the school with immunity for injuries sustained by the students while engaging in such sports.  However, where students are engaging in physical extracurricular activities on school grounds during school hours where the inherent dangers are questionable, rigorous or even intrusive methods of supervision and precautions must be taken by the school and its staff to guard against liability for any injuries that may occur as a result of the students’ participation in such activities.  This would include vigilant supervision and warnings concerning any known dangers associated with those activities.

[1] A governmental entity may be held vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees.

[2] Section 44807 imposes on school authorities a general duty to supervise pupils on school property during school hours.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s