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Running head: TORT LIABILATY: WHO IS REALLY AT FAULT 1

Tort Liability: Who is really at Fault?

Maya Labat

College of Southern Nevada


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Abstract

This paper discusses how tort liability can affect not only a student, but also their families and

community. Ray Knight, a middle school student, was suspended due to unexcused absences.

Although school district procedures required telephone notification and prompt written notice by

mail to his parents, the school only sent a notice with Knight. Knight would take the notes and

throw them away making his parents unaware of his suspension. During his first day of

suspension, Knight was accidentally shot while visiting a friend’s house. In this paper we will

discuss the difference between contributory negligence and comparative negligence. We will

also discuss possible grounds for defense from both sides that is supported by case, state, federal,

and constitutional law.


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Tort Liability: Who is really at Fault?

It’s always easy to place the blame if you feel like your rights have been violated.

Emotions can also be elevated if someone got hurt, or even passed away due to tort liability. Tort

liability is a civil wrong, independent of contract, for which a remedy in damages is sought

(Cambron-McCabe, McCarthy, & Eckes, 2014, p. 321). In this paper we will be discussing cases

which include two different types of liabilities, contributory and comparable. Contributory

liability is when a plaintiff is denied recovery of damages if their actions are shown to have been

subsequently responsible for their injuries (Cambron-McCabe, McCarthy, & Eckes, 2014, p. 30).

The courts usually do not consider children under fourteen to have contributory liability,

although it can be assessed case by case. Comparative negligence is when the plaintiff and/or

one or more defendants bear responsibility in proportion to fault. Now that the types of

liabilities are defined, let’s discuss the case of Ray Knight.

Ray Knight, a middle school student, was suspended due to unexcused absences.

Although school district procedures required telephone notification and prompt written notice by

mail to his parents, the school only sent a notice with Knight. Knight would take the notes and

throw them away making his parents unaware of his suspension. During his first day of

suspension, Knight was accidentally shot while visiting a friend’s house. In this paper, we will

discuss the difference between contributory negligence and comparative negligence. We will

discuss possible grounds for defense from both sides that is supported by case, state, federal, and

constitutional law.

The first question that could be asked is do Ray’s parents have grounds to pursue liability

charges against the school district? They could argue that the school acted negligent similar to

Carr v School Board of Pasco County. In Carr, Micheal Carr was a high school student who
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participated in a physical fitness program at his school. The students were required to participate

in various events to test their stamina and strength. In one event approximately one hundred

students were on the track to walk or run a timed mile. The walkers were expected to stay in the

outside lanes, and the runners in the inside. Michael and several runners broke out of the inside

lanes as the race continued. Michael ran into a metal bench, which displaced his kneecap to the

outside of his leg. There were disputes on where the heavy movable metal bench was positioned

during the time of the race. Some say it was on the concrete away from the track while others say

it could have partially been on the track. The jury applied the standard premises liability theory

and found the school board liable. In both cases, the school did not follow procedures to ensure

proper communication therefore making the school district liable for comparative negligence.

To go back to Knights’ case there is another question one might ask. Did Knight receive

his due process that is guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment before he was put on

suspension? In Goss v. Lopez, the courts ruled in favor for Goss due to him not receiving due

process of the law before their suspension. In Goss, students were protesting on school property

where a class was being upheld. When school officials asked them to stop, they did not. School

officials then called in local police to escort the disruptive students out. A student was seen

attempting to attack the police and that escalated to complete ciaos amongst students. Many

students were given 10 days of suspension. Goss, a student at the school, filed an appeal

claiming that he was an innocent bystander in the whole incident and did not receive due process

before his suspension start date. The Supreme Courts ruled in favor of Goss and reversed the

school district’s decision to suspend him. His suspension was expunged from his school records.

The Supreme Courts stated that “Recognizing that a student’s state created property right to an

education that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, the courts ruled that such right cannot
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be impaired unless the student is afforded a notice of the charges…” (Cambron-McCabe,

McCarthy, & Eckes, 2014, p. 176).

In the previous cases discussed both were comparative negligence torts that were

ultimately at the fault of the school district. In the case of Knight, the school district can also

harbor a defense with saying that knight was liable for contributory negligence similar to the

Sanford v. Stiles case. Michael Sanford had given his ex-girlfriend a disturbing note about

killing himself after finding out about her and her new boyfriend. His ex-girlfriend became

worried and told a guidance counselor. The guidance counselor then talked about the note to son

colleague, Pamela Stiles, who is Michael’s’ guidance counselor. Stiles later called Michael into

her office. She stated that some of his friends were concerned that he was upset with some sort

of situation with some girl. He replied with strait forward answers that did not raise any

suspense for Stiles. He had asked in another later meeting with Stiles if the person who Stiles

the letter was a “blonde haired girl”. Stiles stated that she could not share that information. That

night Michael went home and hung himself. Even though this event was a tragedy, the courts

ruled in favor of Stiles. Stiles followed protocol when she gets a lead about anyone suspected of

being suicidal. The jury also could not conclude that her conduct indicated any form of

negligence. Michael’s mom, who fought for Michael in court, could not prove causation under

tort law since Stiles was entitled to immunity under Pennsylvania law.

In Knight’s case, the school district could also argue that the events that happened outside

of school property and hours fall on the student’s contributory negligence similar to Colette v

Tolleson Unified School District. In this case, five students left school premises during school

hours under a modified closed school policy. Under their policy, students could not leave school

property unless approved with specific parental permission. Students with 3.0 GPA or higher got
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lunch passes where if they had the lunch pass on them, they could leave the school premise.

Thompson, a student, was stopped by a security guard and asked Thompson for his lunch pass.

He admitted that he did not have one. The security guard repeatedly told Thompson that he could

not leave the premises without the pass. Thompson ignored the security guard and stated he had

to get school books for his next class. His friends met him by his car and they headed to the

local mall for lunch. As they were speeding to get back to school, Thompson lost control of the

wheel and hit an oncoming car. The passengers in the car that Thompson hit filed suit against the

District under tort liability claiming the school district as having comparative negligence. The

courts ruled that even though they had a compromised closed policy, were not at fault for events

that happened outside of school property.

In conclusion, dealing with tort liability in the school system can be an emotional

rollercoaster for students, their families, and their communities. If I were ruling in the case of

Knight I would rule that the district is not liable for his death. Even though the school failed to

follow proper protocol with how the written notice of suspension was sent it doesn’t justify

comparative negligence. The tragic event happened outside of school property which would not

give the right for Knights parents to blame the school for their sons’ actions.
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Works Cited

Cambron-McCabe, N. H., McCarthy, M. M., & Eckes, S. E. (2014). Leagal Rights of Teachers

and Students. Boston: Pearson, Inc.

caselaw.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from CaseLaw: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-3rd-

circuit/1380734.html

caselaw.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from CaseLaw: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/az-court-of-

appeals/1291266.html

caselaw.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from CaseLaw: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-

court/419/565.html

caselaw.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from CaseLaw: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/fl-district-court-of-

appeal/1143031