GROSS NEGLIGENCE MUST BE PROVED
Gross negligence must be proved in order for the beneficiary of a charity to sue the charity for causing injury.
Negligence means that someone acted carelessly. Gross negligence means that someone acted more than just carelessly. Gross negligence implies extreme carelessness.
In most cases, victims of accidents must only prove that the party being sued acted negligently. But occasionally more must be proved. Sometimes, the victim must prove gross negligence in order to recover compensation. One such case arises when the beneficiary of a charity sues the charity.
Youth Consultation Services, Inc. is a New Jersey nonprofit corporation which operated the Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC) in Audubon Park. TLC was a day-care facility for children with developmental disabilities. As a nonprofit, TLC was considered a charity under the law. The children it served were considered its beneficiaries.
A three-year-old girl identified in court papers only as A.M.Z. was enrolled in TLC. I’ll call the girl Amy. Amy had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hyperactivity. She was prescribed Abilify, which was administered to her by the school nurse. The children in her classroom were also special needs students.
Amy claimed that, on one occasion, the teachers left. She stated that the children started running around, and were like jumping around. She said this occurred when there were no adults in the room. She and four or five other kids got on the table with her. She then heard footsteps coming down the hall, and claimed “I was trying to get off the table when I put like one step was like off the table.” Amy stated that she heard footsteps coming and turned around to get down, but a boy just pushed her off the table. Amy suffered a displaced right elbow fracture, requiring surgery.
A lawsuit against TLC’s parent company was brought on behalf of Amy. The company defended the suit on the basis that, even if the teachers were negligent, they had not committed gross negligence.
The trial judge agreed with the company that no reasonable juror could find that there had been gross negligence. Therefore, the judge dismissed the lawsuit, without letting a jury deliberate. An appeal followed.
Fortunately for Amy, the appeals judges ruled that the trial judge did not give proper consideration to the age of the children left alone. Or to the fact that they were special needs children. The appeals court decided that Amy was entitled to have a jury decide whether the teachers had committed gross negligence. Amy’s lawsuit was therefore reinstated.
I firmly agree with the appeals court ruling.