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A.W. v. Lancaster County School District 0001

    Brief Fact Summary.

    A.W. (Plaintiff), mother of a young child (C.B.) at a Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) (Defendant), sued LPS when her child was sexually assaulted while on school premises by Joseph Siems (Siems). LPS permitted Siems to enter the school. Plaintiff sued. Trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim on summary judgement. Plaintiff appealed.

    Facts.

    A.W. sued Defendant LPS after her child C.B. was sexually assaulted in a school restroom by Siems. LPS staff saw Siems enter the school building, took note of the danger he posed to the students, but did not track his location once he entered the school. LPS staff allowed C.B. to go to the restroom while Siems was still in the building. C.B. later reported Siems the sexually assaulted him. The trial court dismissed A.W.’s claim holding that LPS did not owe a duty to protect C.B. from the sexual assault Further, C.B.’s harm was not foreseeable and LPS took reasonable measures to protect students against acts of violence.

    Issue.

    For a defendant to be held liable, must the court first determine that a foreseeable harm existed at the time the alleged negligence occurred?

    Held.

    No. Determining if there was a foreseeable risk at the time of the alleged negligence occurred is a decision for the factfinder and not the court. A negligence cause of action requires the following: defendant owes a legal duty to the plaintiff, breach of the duty, causation, and a harm in the form of money damages. If there is a duty, that is a question of law. Negligence requires that there be a standard of care when there is a foreseeable risk. If there has been a breach, that determination is left up to the factfinder. Further, there must be a determination of if the harm that occurred was reasonable and foreseeable. Here, the factfinder must determine, given the facts, that the C.B.’s sexual assault was reasonably foreseeable and LPS knew or reasonably inferred that there was potential danger when Siems was inside the school building unsupervised. It is not disputed that LPS owed C.B., a student, a duty of reasonable supervision and protection. However, LPS says the C.B.’s sexual assault was not foreseeable and LPS staff could not have known that C.B. would have been sexually assaulted by Siems in the restroom. A.W. argues that LPS staff should have known of the danger Siems presented along with the surrounding neighborhood being known as a dangerous environment. Moreover, none of LPS staff made sure that Siems would not encounter a student. This risk of harm was further exacerbated when C.B. was permitted to go to the restroom alone while Siems’ location in the school was unknown. Court determined that the issue of whether LPS breached its duty to C.B. was an issue of material fact the summary judgment in LPS favor was improper. The court reversed its dismissal and remanded.

    Discussion.

    In a negligence claim(s), the factfinder determines if the harm of the alleged negligence is reasonably foreseeable.



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