Basketball Player’s Claim Survives Summary Judgment

Apr 24, 2009

A state court judge in Connecticut has kept alive the claim of a plaintiff, who injured himself when he slipped and fell in a gym, by denying a pair of motions for summary judgment brought by the defendants in the case.
The court’s rationale for the decision was “based upon the nature of the allegations in the complaint and the material issues of facts disputed by the parties to this action.”
The incident that led to the litigation occurred on April 21, 2005, when plaintiff David Williams was participating in a basketball practice in the Middletown High School gymnasium. Williams slipped and fell on a dusty, unswept floor, causing him to sustain a serious knee injury. The practice occurred during spring break, when the school district had a limited staff at its disposal.
On September 27, 2007, the plaintiff parent, Annette Williams-Crump, filed an amended 12-count complaint on behalf of her minor son. The first and seventh counts were directed against Jeff Turro, the head custodian at MHS; the second and eighth counts are against Robert Fontaine, the principal of MHS; the third and ninth counts are pled against Carol Parmalee-Blancato and/or Michael Frechette, superintendent of Middletown High School; the fourth and tenth counts are directed at the Middletown board of education; the fifth and eleventh counts are pled against the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and the sixth and 12th counts are against Bobby Dodd, AAU’s president and chief executive officer.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had a duty to supervise the premises and maintain a safe environment for the basketball participants, and that they failed to do so. The plaintiffs further alleged that the defendants breached their duty of care by failing to maintain the gymnasium floor in a safe condition, and by leaving it in a dusty, unswept condition, which caused Williams to slip and sustain his serious knee injury. In particular, the plaintiffs alleged that the municipal defendants in this case owed a mandatory public duty to Williams to clean and safely maintain the gymnasium floor. The plaintiffs additionally alleged that the Middletown Bulldogs were part of a league that the AAU was operating, managing or facilitating, and that it had possession or control of the MHS gym at the time of the injury.
In their motion for summary judgment, the board of education defendants argued that they were entitled to governmental immunity. In the second motion for summary judgment, the defendants AAU and Dodd asserted that they were neither in possession or control of the premises at the time of the incident, nor did they breach their duty of care to Williams in failing to maintain the premises in a safe condition.
Addressing the second summary judgment motion first, the court concluded that the issue of control and possession of the MHS gymnasium at the time of Williams’ injury to be a “material fact disputed by the parties in this case. As an issue of fact, it is within the province of the finder of fact at trial to determine the validity of this element of the plaintiffs’ claim. For this reason, the AAU and Dodd’s motion for summary judgment is denied.”
Turning to the board of education’s motion for summary judgment, the court noted that while “municipalities are generally immune from liability in tort, municipal employees historically were personally liable for their own tortuous conduct. Burns v. Board of Education, 228 Conn. 640, 645, 638 A.2d 1 (1994). There are several well recognized exceptions to governmental immunity claimed by the plaintiffs in this case. They are: (1) the identifiable person-imminent harm exception; (2) the acting in a proprietary capacity exception; and, (3) the violation of a mandatory public duty exception.”
The court found that the imminent harm exception to GI did not apply as that exception did not apply to a voluntary activity on school grounds. However, questions of material fact existed as to whether the proprietary capacity (PC) and mandatory public duty (MPD) exceptions to GI applied. The acceptance of a fee for the athletic association’s use of the high school gym, while minimal proof of the PC exception, was nonetheless sufficient to raise a question for the jury as to whether the exception applied, but only as to the BOE itself. Language in the BOE’s policies regarding facility use indicated that it was required to provide a custodian when a facility was used. None was provided. While not conclusive proof of a MPD, the evidence gave rise to a factual inference sufficient to survive summary judgment.
Annette Williams Crump PPA David Williams v. Middletown Board of Education et al.; Super. Ct. Conn., Middlesex; CV075002093, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 435; 2/20/09


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