It is a well-settled proposition of law in New York State that schools are under a duty to adequately supervise the students in their charge, and that they may be held liable for foreseeable injuries related to the absence of adequate supervision. But what is the extent of a school district’s liability for activities and conduct of parent-teacher associations (“PTAs”)? The Appellate Division, Third Department, has in recent years issued some decisions that school districts may be well-advised to take notice of.
During the 2012-2103 school year, the Appellate Division, Third Department reviewed a case wherein a child was injured at an event hosted by a PTA. The court found not only that the PTA could be liable for the child’s injuries because it organized and supervised the event, but also that the school district could not escape liability by claiming that it was separate from the PTA and did not direct the latter’s conduct. In reaching the decision, the court considered the following factors: (1) that the school district’s permission was required for the PTA to hold the event on school grounds; (2) that the school district was hosting a science fair on school property at the same time as the event hosted by the PTA; (3) that the school district promoted both the PTA event and the science fair on its website and in fliers distributed throughout the district; (4) that school personnel assisted in setting up the tables for the PTA event; and (5) that the school nurse attended the PTA event to provide medical aid, if needed. Although this type of involvement of a school district is not uncommon when a PTA holds an event on school grounds, the court determined that these factors raised a question of fact for a jury to decide as to the level of control over the event exerted by the school district.
The decision appears to be consistent with other recent decisions analyzing school district liability for the conduct and activities of its PTA (and its volunteers) by scrutinizing the level of involvement between the school district and the PTA during the incident in question. There is no question but that PTAs provide an invaluable service to school districts. Thus, the back-to-school lesson for PTAs and school districts alike? Take a close look at safety issues during PTA events, as both the school district and the PTA may be liable for resulting injuries.
Kara J. Cavallo is an associate on our Litigation Team. She can be reached by calling 845-778-2121 toll free or 845-778-2121 and by email.