Casey & Devoti recently won a significant appeal for a client in the Missouri Court of Appeals. Partner Matthew J. Devoti represented the client both before the trial court and before the appellate court.
The client, a middle school student, broke his wrist during gym class while playing ‘long base’, a variation of kickball. He brought suit against the physical education teacher that taught the class and the teacher’s employer, the Iberia R-V School District. Days before jury trial, the trial court granted summary judgment to the teacher under the Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001.
The teacher claimed that he was immune from suit and shielded from liability as a result of the Coverdell Act, a federal law passed by Congress as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The purpose of the Coverdell Act is to permit teachers to act with confidence in disciplining students and maintaining order in the classroom. The court entered the judgment believing the teacher was entitled to immunity under the Coverdell Act despite his negligence
Attorney Devoti argued the teacher was negligent for placing the ‘long base’ bases too close to the gymnasium walls, which resulted in the student crashing into a wall and breaking his wrist, and for negligently providing first aid after the injury.
He also argued the teacher was not entitled to immunity under the Coverdell Act as the teacher’s actions, which the student challenged, were not taken to control him or his classmates in connection with the maintenance of order and discipline in the classroom. Rather, the student stated, his suit criticizes actions taken by the teacher either teaching his physical education class or in attempting to provide first aid to the student after he broke his wrist.
The Missouri Court of Appeals agreed with the firm’s client and the Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the teacher and ordered the case to return to the Circuit Court of Camden County for jury trial. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the school district, which had previously been granted.
This case stems a recent tide of opinions in favor of teachers and school coaches and against their students attempting to hold the teachers and coaches responsible for their failure to exercise ordinary care in the performance of their teaching and coaching duties. The case is Lackey v. Iberia R-V School District and Morris, Case No. SD33918.