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New Mexico Court Holds High School Entitled to Immunity for Plaintiff’s Negligence Claims

| Aug 16, 2017 | Personal Injury

In a recent appeal in a New Mexico personal injury case, the New Mexico Court of Appeals addressed whether a charter high school was entitled to the protections set forth in the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (TCA) and whether the negligence claim asserted against the school fell within a waiver of the TCA.

The facts of this case indicate that a student was assaulted and battered in the parking lot by another student who had been upset by an earlier interaction.  The victim suffered serious injuries that required surgery and painful rehabilitation.  Teachers investigated immediately after the incident and removed the aggressor from the general population at school.The plaintiffs (including the guardian of the victim) brought a lawsuit against the high school and others.  The allegations against the school stated that the school owed the victim a duty to keep the premises safe and that they had failed to do so by failing to provide adequate security.  Additionally, the complaint alleged that the high school is a privately operated charter school, so it is not within the scope of the TCA.  The immunity afforded by the TCA, according to the complaint, was waived for the school’s negligence.

In response, the school claimed that as a charter school and a public school, it was subject to the TCA. The TCA protects government entities and public employees who are acting within the scope of their duty from liability for any tort, except when this is waived by certain exceptions.   The school moved for summary judgment, arguing that as a public school, it was subject to the TCA, and separately, immunity was not waived because the plaintiffs’ claim was for negligent supervision.

The plaintiffs then contended that their claim was based not on negligent supervision but on the school’s failure to have an appropriate written policy regarding student safety in the parking lot. In this appellate opinion, the court stated their task was to determine whether a waiver applied by looking at the legislative intent of the law.

The court addressed whether a charter school is considered a public school under New Mexico law. The court stated that charter schools are intended to be treated as public schools, as is demonstrated by statutes as well as legislative intent.

The issue here was whether the defendant high school was entitled to sovereign immunity for damages caused by the negligence of their employees, when they acted within the scope of their duties.  Turning to a recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision, the court stated that the law waives immunity only when the alleged negligence has created an unsafe, dangerous, or defective condition on government property.  Additionally, the court stated there was no waiver for negligent supervision, for example.

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that they had not alleged negligent supervision.  Instead, the court stated that the plaintiffs had not cited law concerning their claim that the school negligently failed to have written safety policies concerning their supervision and security.

Since the appellate court concluded that the plaintiffs’ claim was for negligent supervision, concerning a single student-student altercation, the court stated there was no waiver of immunity.

Dedicated personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance helps injured individuals and their families throughout Albuquerque and New Mexico in their claims for compensation.  Many injury claims proceed under a negligence theory of law, and accident victims and other injured people can hold at-fault parties accountable for their careless actions.  To schedule a complimentary consultation, call us at 505-445-1604 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

New Mexico Property Owners Have Duty to Those Invited Onto Property, Including for Open and Obvious Dangers, New Mexico Injury Lawyer Blog, July 19, 2017

New Mexico Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Damages Claim for Injuries Caused by Allegedly Defective Work Boots, New Mexico Injury Lawyer Blog, January 26, 2017