Lacrosse Coach Liable For Student's Head Injury
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In the case of Podgorski v. Pizzoferrato, a student and lacrosse player, filed suit against a board of education and lacrosse coach alleging negligent supervision by the school officials and coaches. In law, negligence is the failure of an individual to use reasonable care, which results in either damage or injury to another. A negligence claim requires that the student prove (1) the board of education owed him a duty; (2) the board breached that duty and; in doing so (3) directly caused the student (4) a real and compensable injury. In two separate motions, the school officials along with the coaches and the town along with the board sought summary judgment on the basis of governmental immunity under Connecticut law.
The student alleged that he was injured when the teammate threw a lacrosse ball at his head immediately before practice. Under Connecticut law, a municipal employee, such as a school lacrosse coach, is liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has a qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts. For clarity, the hallmark of a discretionary act is that it requires the exercise of judgment. In contrast, ministerial refers to a duty that is to be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion. The board claimed that they were not liable for negligently supervising student athletes, as supervision was an inherently discretionary, rather than ministerial matter. The student argued that the coaches had a ministerial duty to supervise the athletes at practice and failed to do so. The student argued that the coaches' handbook required the coaches to supervise the team before practice. The handbook in question contained language that incorporated both discretionary and ministerial duties. Whether the coaches "properly" supervised the athletes was a matter of discretion, as it required the exercise of judgment. The coaches did not have discretion, however, to fail to provide any level of supervision during practice. The lacrosse coaches were subject to a board of education policy dictating that they had to be present at practice. The coaches' ministerial duty to supervise "all athletes at practice" necessarily included the time period immediately before the actual practice session.
The motions for summary judgment were denied. “[The student] testified that he was injured when a teammate "whipped" a lacrosse ball at his head. This evidence indicates that the coaches had a ministerial duty to supervise the team prior to practice” said the court. “Specifically, once a coach unlocked the temporary field house and students began congregating in preparation for practice, the coach's duty of supervision included the time between when the students dressed and obtained their lacrosse equipment and when they arrived at the field. This time was necessarily within the scope of "practice," as the students would not have been ready to practice without being able to access their lacrosse equipment and change into their practice clothes.”
If you have a child with a disability and have questions about special education law, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 203-221-3100, or at JMaya@mayalaw.com, to schedule a free consultation.
Source: Podgorski v. Pizzoferrato, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2777 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct. 7, 2009)
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