For the second time in two years, a state court has ruled that a mother can sue a school district because her 9-year-old son ran head-first into an unpadded concrete wall during gym class.
This time, the decision comes from the state Supreme Court. The justices unanimously upheld a 2016 Commonwealth Court ruling that backed Syeta Brewington’s right to sue the School District of Philadelphia.
In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Debra Todd rejected the district’s claim that it is legally immune from liability for the mishap that occurred in May 2012 at the Walter G. Smith Elementary School.
Brewington claims her son, Jarrett, was competing in a relay race in the gym when he tripped and slammed into the wall. The boy suffered a concussion and was out of school for two months, his mother claims. She contends he also suffered persistent headaches and memory problems.
District officials tried to invoke the real estate exception which protects public school districts from most lawsuits involving property-related mishaps. They insisted the wall wasn’t defective.
Also, Todd noted, “the school warns of the repercussions of…finding an unpadded gym wall to be a dangerous condition.” That could open schools to lawsuits “unless they pad every conceivable wall, floor or other fixture within every piece of real estate they own,” district officials argued.
The high court wasn’t swayed.
“In these circumstances, governmental immunity does not apply and he school may be held liable for Jarrett’s damages caused by the alleged negligent failure to affix mats to the gym walls,” Todd wrote.
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