A 5-year-old child died of a skull fracture after a lunchroom bench fell down on top of him while he played in a one-time school building as his grandparents nearby attended a community basketball game.
The ensuing litigation, which has been going on four years now, has been complicated by the questions about which entity actually had ownership of the building – and thus could be liable for the condition of the premises – at the time of the accident.
Now, the Wyoming Supreme Court has reversed a summary judgment in Amos v. Lincoln County Schools that favored the school district defendant, finding that while the facts are largely undisputed, it was reasonable that jurors could find in favor of plaintiff on issues of proximate and intervening cause of the accident.
According to court records, the incident occurred at a school building. Several years earlier, the district had completed construction of a new school, and stopped using the building. It had remained vacant for some time, and ultimately was listed for sale.
Soon after, area residents expressed a desire to turn the school into a community center. After the group presented a number of ideas to the school district for recreational use purposes, the county commission agreed to work with the group to give them a chance to acquire the building. The group applied for several grants, while the county agreed to foot the bill for a feasibility study and to sponsor the grant and loan applications.
Commissioners voted to approve the grant application, on the condition if the grant were awarded, ownership of the building would transfer from the school district to the county. A state loan and investment board approved the grant and the county and school boards approved the terms of the purchase agreement, which included the transfer of ownership from the school to the county.
The quitclaim deed was issued in March 2010.
However, prior to that, in July 2009, when the county was still deciding whether to support the grant application, the school district changed the locks on the building and gave the keys to the county, which allowed the community groups to use the building for various recreational activities.
It was during this window of time the tragic accident with the 5-year-old occurred. A bench had been left leaning against a wall on a stage where several young children were playing. The child ran against the bench, which was not locked into position, and it came crashing down onto his head.
Representatives for the estate of the child filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a number of defendants including the school district.
The school, however, argued it should not be held liable because it had already turned over possession and maintenance of the building to the community group. Thus, it had no duty of care to the child and should receive summary judgment as a matter of law.
Trial court ruled in favor of the school district because there was no evidence the district’s actions were a direct, proximate cause of the accident.
Plaintiff filed an appeal, and the state supreme court reversed. It agreed with plaintiff’s argument that regardless of who negligently placed that bench up against a wall, the school district breached its duty of reasonable care by failure to warn the community group of how dangerous it could be to mishandle those benches and tables and by not restricting access to the keys to unlock the tables and benches. Where the question of failure to warn and restriction of access was a proximate cause of an accident, it is a matter for jurors to decide.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Amos v. Lincoln County Schools , Aug. 21, 2015, Wyoming Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Murray v. Town of Hudson – Personal Injury Lawsuit Against Local Government, Aug. 7, 2015, Naples Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog