Getting Involved

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Q: I was a senior in high school and a member of our school’s Get-Involved Club.  We would perform community service.  Through our participation, we could satisfy a community-service requirement.  Our faculty adviser was a business teacher at the school.

One Sunday, we were scheduled to assist at a spaghetti dinner for a charity in town.  Our adviser was present at the restaurant for part of the event to check in and see the students.  She was aware that student volunteers were serving food from chafing dishes.  The chafing dishes were heated by sterno canisters.

After our adviser had left the premises, an employee asked us to tell the restaurant whenever a sterno canister went out.  One of the canisters did go out.  The employee got a new one and lit it by holding up an already-lit canister.  The second time this happened, a different employee got a new canister.  But he just put it on the table and walked away.

No problem.  My friend tried to light the canister the same way as we had seen done, but she dropped both canisters when flames appeared.  I was standing nearby.  Can I sue the school district?

A: The district is likely to argue that it had no duty of supervision at the dinner because the dinner was an off-campus event that the district did not run.  Further, it will argue that your injuries were not ‘foreseeable’ because it was not foreseeable that your friend would attempt to light a new canister herself.

The law is that schools have a duty adequately to supervise students in their charge and are held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision.  This duty stems from the school’s physical custody over students and is based on the theory that, by exercising such custody, the school has deprived the students of the protection of their parents or guardians.  Under normal circumstances, once students leave their school’s orbit of authority, parents are free to resume custodial control and the school’s custodial duty ceases.

It is fairly straightforward that the school district had a duty to supervise the members of the Get-Involved Club at the off-campus dinner.  It will be tougher work for your lawyer to establish that the school district should have foreseen that a student might tragically attempt to light a canister herself.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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