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Liability of School for Negligence of a Third Party

field-trip-205687-mIn April of 1993 Jason Robinson was a student at Darmouth High School.  In the early morning hours of the school day, three assailants were involved in a violent altercation at the school with two other of Jason’s classmates and possibly Jason himself.  After the altercation the assailants fled the school and Jason was detained by school officials.  A classmate of the individuals informed school officials that the three individuals who were the assailants planned to return to the school and retaliate against Jason.  The assailants did in fact return some hours later, this time, heavily armed.  The assailants were unimpeded by school officials and made their way to an upstairs classroom where they stabbed Jason to death.

The individual who stabbed Jason was subsequently convicted of murder in the second degree by the Massachusetts court system.  Jason’s mother, Elaine Brum, filed an action in Superior Court against the town of Darmouth and various town and school officials alleging a failure to maintain adequate security measures at the school which amounted to negligence.  The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the mother’s claim based on Massachusetts General Law Chapter 258 § 10(J), which does not allow a lawsuit to be filed against the Commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions where the claim is:

“based on an act or failure to act to prevent or diminish the harmful consequences of a condition or situation, including the violent or tortious conduct of a third person, which is not originally caused by the public employer or any other person acting on behalf of the public employer.”

This inability to sue the Commonwealth for the negligence of a third party does have a few exceptions.  For instance, a Plaintiff may pursue a claim when there are explicit and specific assurances of safety or assistance, where a public employee intervenes and places a victim in a worse position that he was in before the intervention, and where a claim is based on negligent maintenance of public property.

The Plaintiff argued that the rule of law that precludes an individual for suing the Commonwealth for negligence based on a third party was not applicable because the ‘actual‘ negligence was the lack of security on the school premises, which was originally caused by the defendants’ failure to adopt security policies as they were required to do under the statutory laws of Massachusetts.

The court disagreed and held that the school had not originally caused the actions of the person who killed Jason.  The court further articulated that the principal purpose of the statute is to preclude liability for failures to prevent or diminish harm, including harm brought about by the wrongful act of a third party.  The court further held, “to interpret, as the Appeals Court did, the subordinate clause referring to “originally caused” conditions, to include conditions that are, in effect, failures to prevent harm, would undermine that principal purpose.”  As such, the Plaintiff’s case, predicated in negligence against the town of Darmouth, was ultimately dismissed.

To read more on the case mentioned above, please read Brum v. Town of Darmouth.  Please check out the portion of our site dedicated to premises liability and Negligent/Inadequate security. If you or a family member have been injured on the property of another, our office can help you pursue your claim. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.

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