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Career Education Case Studies MCCTA – 2010
Cole v. Big Beaver Falls Area Sch. Dist. (W.D. Pa. 2009) – “state-created danger theory” Facts: The Material Educations Instructor directed the student to execute a particularly difficult cut. The cut required using a 10 inch arbor table saw on the four edges of the box portion of a wood table Cole had constructed. The Instructor further directed Cole to remove the guard on the saw blade prior to making the cut. The Instructor then walked away as Cole proceeded to make the cut. While making the cut, Cole severed the fingers on his left hand when his hand came in contact with the blade. Acting on behalf of their son, Cole’s parents sued the school district pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging the district deprived their son of this 14th Amendment right to personal protection. Issue: Did Big Beaver Falls Area School District violate the student’s 14th Amendment right to substantive due process pursuant to the state-created danger theory of liability? The student argued that his injuries “were the forseeable result of the deliberate indifference of the School District … which constitutes a state-created danger ….” He argued that the district, through the instructor, created the opportunity for harm which would not have happened had the district not directed the cuts absent a blade guard and adequate supervision.
Cole, con’t To proceed to trial the student had to establish: 1. The harm ultimately caused was forseeable and fairly direct; 2. A state actor acted with a degree of culpability that shocks the conscience; 3. A relationship existed between the state and the student, and 4. A state actor affirmatively used his authority in a way that created a danger to the student or rendered him more vulnerable to danger. Holding: By focusing on the school district rather than the instructor, the court determined that the student failed to show how the district placed him in a dangerous situation. Caveat: Rather than making a constitutional deprivation argument against the school district, the student might have prevailed in state court on a negligence claim.
Bolling v. North Olmstead City Schools Brd. Of Educ. (Ohio Ct. App. 2008) – immunity for the instructor or not? Facts: North Olmstead High School’s shop class had a jointer machine that had been used by students since 1964. The machine had a cutter head containing three knives. A guard was attached to the machine. For Bolling, it was his first day actually using the jointer machine in shop class after taking a test and watching a demonstration of its use. Bolling was provided precut wood pieces by his shop instructor. After watching another student use the machine, student took his turn. His instructor watched him operate it safely two or three times. The instructor then turned to address the other students when he heard Bolling scream. Bolling had severed several of his fingers while using the machine. The instructor immediately tended to him by wrapping his hand, applying pressure and contacting emergency. Shortly after the accident, the machine was moved to storage for inspection. The guard on the machine was open and wouldn’t close. The instructor later testified that he sometimes had to adjust the tension on the machine and that it’s surface was waxed weekly sometimes by students. Acting on behalf of their son, Bolling’s parents sued in state court claiming that the board of education, high school, and the shop instructor acted negligently, recklessly, and willfully caused injury to Bolling. The board, high school and instructor argued they were entitled to “political subdivision” immunity. In the end, this appeal focused on the shop instructor’s “discretionary acts” in regard to his classroom supervision and maintenance of classroom equipment.
Bolling, con’t. Issue: Did the shop instructor act with “malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton and reckless manner”? Holding: The evidence showed the shop instructor did not act with “malicious purpose, in bad faith, or wantonly.” (In Missouri, this would be “gross negligence”.) However, the court concluded there was enough evidence for a jury to consider whether the instructor acted recklessly. Recklessness is defined as an indifferent or heedless disregard of a known risk or consequences. The instructor must be aware that his conduct will likely result in injury. IF the jury determined the instructor’s conduct qualified as being reckless, THEN the instructor could be held personally liable for the student’s injury. IF the jury determined the instructor was negligent – a lower standard than recklessness – THEN the teacher would be covered by the doctrine of immunity. Caveat: A negligent teacher may be shielded from liability, but NOT from unemployment!
Lehmen v. Wansing, 624 S.W.2d 1 (Mo. banc 1981) Facts: Lehmen and members of his voc ag class were constructing hard oak lumber feed bunks as part of a course assignment. As they were nailing strips of the lumber, a nail flew through the air striking Lehmen in his left eye. The accident resulted in permanent damage depriving him of normal sight. Acting on his behalf, Lehmen’s parents sued the board of education, the superintendent, the high school principal, the voc ag teacher, and the FFA in state court on a claim of negligence. The FFA was dismissed. Defendants claimed they were shielded by the doctrine of sovereign immunity and prevailed on their claim in lower court. Issue: Were all the defendants – the board, the administrators and the teacher – shielded by the doctrine of sovereign immunity? Holding: Relying on their decision in a recent, previous case, the Missouri Supreme Court agreed that the members of the school board in their official capacity were immune. Conversely, the Court determined that the superintendent, principal and teacher could be held liable in his individual capacity for damage resulting from the breach of his personal duty to Lehmen. The lower court’s judgment in regard to these three was reversed and remanded so that Lehmen could further pursue claims against each. Caveat: In Missouri, a public entity is shielded by sovereign immunity, but the public entity’s employees, when acting in a discretionary capacity within the course of their employment, are not.
How to avoid liability(Source: Prof. Todd A. DeMitchell and MO case law) • Know your school’s policies/regulations • Adequately supervise • Provide proper instructions; follow instructions • Properly maintain buildings/grounds/equipment • Provide warnings of hazardous conditions • Exercise reasonable care in providing for the safety of students
Injury prevention tips(Source: http://health.utah.gov/vipp) • Establish and enforce safety policies and procedures • Train students and teachers in safe use of equipment • Provide adequate supervision • Properly maintain equipment • Maintain cleanliness in shop areas • Ensure that machine users remove all jewelry, tie back long hair, and tuck in loose clothing before using equipment