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In Near-Drowning on School Trip, The School And Officials Are Immune From Suit, But The Case Against The Pool Owner Continued.

Published May 18, 2018 by Ivory Roberson
In Near-Drowning on School Trip, The School And Officials Are Immune From Suit, But The Case Against The Pool Owner Continued.

As parents, we have this silly notion that when our children are in the care and under the supervision of the school authorities, they are perfectly safe. Why we imagine such a thing is difficult to understand. We assume (which is rarely a good idea,) that they – meaning the school system – will always act in the best interest of our kids, and that they will have established good supervisory skills that will keep those in their care from harm. This is very often not the case. What’s worse, when there are issues or problems, those in supervisory positions for schools and other government departments almost always enjoy immunity from any litigation.

In This Case: Followed by the case number.

In the case of Holbrook v. Exec. Conf. Ctr., 219 Ga. App. 104 (1995), the facts are as follows. A boy of 13 years from Dayton Ohio came to Fulton County Georgia as part of a school band trip that was organized, sponsored and supervised by Dayton Public Schools and the Dayton Board of Education. During his visit, the young boy was the guest of The Executive Conference Center in Fulton County.

The conference center had a swimming pool available to guests; however, the pool was not in compliance with Fulton County’s Health Department Code. The Executive was negligent in the maintenance and operation of the pool “in that the break line between the shallow end of the pool and the deep end of the pool was inadequately differentiated and/or marked. There was no life guard on duty as is required by Fulton County Health Code.

This young boy was alone and unsupervised in the pool when he was found near death floating in the deep end of the pool. Following the near drowning death of the boy, his parents sued the Dayton County Schools, The Dayton, Ohio Board of Education, the supervisory teacher, and the Fulton County, Georgia conference center where the near drowning occurred.

Subtitle: Sovereign Immunity

At the outset of the process, the school district defendants including the teacher filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that they enjoyed official Sovereign Immunity and could not be held liable. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case against the schools and the teacher. (Even though they were from Ohio, the State of Georgia granted them comity extending them the same considerations as would be given a Georgia school – in this case, immunity from liability.)

At the same time, the conference center filed a motion for summary judgment asking the trial court to dismiss the case against them arguing that the plaintiffs could not make a case for negligence since the boy assumed the risk of injury. This motion was denied.

The trial court held that the plaintiffs did, indeed, make a prima facie case, one that appears to be legitimate and must be proved to be otherwise, for negligence by way of the conference centers failure to abide by the Fulton County Code.

Subtitle: Ignoring safety rules

Safety statutes such as the ones ignored by the conference center “create a duty, the breach of which is inextricable from the proximate cause of the damage.” By this, the jury was authorized to infer that the minor’s near drowning would not have happened but for defendant conference center’s non-compliance with the applicable pool safety regulations. This circumstantial evidence was sufficient to present a jury question on the issue of causation rendering a summary judgment merit-less.

This particular case was appealed and cross appealed but the trial court’s judgment was upheld in spite of a few dissenting views by appellate justices regarding whether or not the child was fully aware that he was in danger. The bottom line remains the same. The schools are generally not held responsible for accidents or injury to children in their care because supervision and control of students is a discretionary function of their job. However, the case against the conference center survived because no immunity attached to the conference center and a jury question existed based upon the alleged failure to comply with pool safety rules and regulations.

We believe the conference center now has clear depth markings and a life-guard on duty these days.

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