The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently granted partial summary judgment in a case against a Portland High School after a mother alleged her teenage son fell and struck his head while apparently tussling with an older boy at a school sporting event.The court dismissed the claims against the older boy’s parents. The case against the defendant teen and the school district will proceed separately from this ruling.
The mother claimed the incident occurred at Cheverus High School in Portland, where a number of youths had been attending a sporting event. She filed an injury lawsuit against the school district, as well as the older boy and his parents, bringing counts for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The defendant parents requested summary judgment for both negligent infliction of emotional distress and causes of action under state negligence laws.
Summary judgment is a legal term that means a plaintiff has failed to bring a case in which there is a genuine issue of material fact for a jury to decide, so the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Essentially, this means a plaintiff failed to bring a case sufficient for a jury to decide upon matters of fact, and the defendant otherwise prevails as a matter of law. Summary judgments are frequently filed by law firms defending corporations and large insurance companies. It means an unprepared injury attorney could find his case over shortly after making it to the courtroom.
While the court will look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, if a request for summary judgment is properly supported, the burden of proof then shifts to the plaintiff to prove genuine issues exist that require a factual determination under the law. From a practical standpoint, it means if your injury attorney files a lawsuit on your behalf, he must be prepared to defend it from the outset, rather than if or when a case ever makes it to trial.
In this instance, the court found the defendant youth to be entitled to summary judgment on the allegations of negligent infliction of emotional distress against the victim’s parents. As it relates to negligence on the part of the defendant teen’s parents, the court noted a prima facie claim of negligence requires the plaintiff to prove the defendant breached a duty of care and that the plaintiff suffered compensable damages as a result.
Maine law establishes a two-part test in determining a parent’s duty to exercise reasonable care over a child (Merchant v. Mansir, 572 A.2d 493, 493-94). A parent has a duty of care to prevent a child from causing intentional or negligent harm to another person when the parent has the ability to control the child and knows or should know of the necessity or opportunity to exercise such control. The court found no evidence the parents had any knowledge of the defendant youth’s potential danger to others, and it noted it was undisputed that neither parent was present at the time of the incident. Thus, the court ruled the parents were also entitled to summary judgment on the issue of negligence in this child injury case.
If you are injured in Bangor or Portland, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Griffin v. Cheverus High School of Portland, Maine Supreme Judicial Court, June 2018