Cedar Falls v. CEDAR FALLS SCHOOL DIST., No. 98-1659.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtSNELL, Justice.
Citation617 N.W.2d 11
Decision Date07 September 2000
Docket NumberNo. 98-1659.
PartiesRobert L. Bellman, as Administrator of Estate of Derek R. Bellman, Deceased, Plaintiff, v. The City of Cedar Falls, Defendant. The CITY OF CEDAR FALLS, Appellee, v. CEDAR FALLS COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant.

617 N.W.2d 11

Robert L. Bellman, as Administrator of Estate of Derek R. Bellman, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
The City of Cedar Falls, Defendant.
The CITY OF CEDAR FALLS, Appellee,
v.
CEDAR FALLS COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant

No. 98-1659.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

September 7, 2000.


617 N.W.2d 14
Jim D. DeKoster and Beth E. Hansen of Swisher & Cohrt, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellant

James E. Walsh, Jr. and Christy R. Liss of Clark, Butler, Walsh & Hamann, Waterloo, for appellee.

Considered en banc.

SNELL, Justice.

This appeal arises from a tragic accident which, ironically, occurred during a safety program for a class of kindergarten students. One of the students, Derek Bellman, died from injuries inflicted by a golf cart kept on hand for use during the safety presentations. A judgment was entered against the City of Cedar Falls after it admitted liability, and the City sought contribution from the Cedar Falls Community School District. A jury determined the District shared fault for the accident. The District now appeals various rulings related to that finding. Because we determine the district court committed no reversible error, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

The facts surrounding the accident are largely undisputed.

In September 1995, the City of Cedar Falls held its annual safety program for the kindergarten students of several elementary schools. This long-running program, called "Safety City," was jointly conducted by the police and fire divisions of

617 N.W.2d 15
the City's Department of Public Safety, Sartori Memorial Hospital, and Cedar Falls Utilities. The police division was in overall charge of administering the program

Safety City was held at the City's Recreation Center during the course of a week. Each morning and afternoon two kindergarten classes would visit the site. One class would attend presentations put on by the fire and utilities personnel inside the building, while the other class would view presentations by the police division and hospital in the parking lot outside. The classes would then trade places.

The police division's portion of the program included traffic safety and "stranger danger" demonstrations conducted by three police officers, Sergeant Todd Wilson, and Officers Laurel Magee and Tim Eich. Using a motorized golf cart and a miniature intersection, Sergeant Wilson would simulate a motorist while Officer Eich played the part of a careless pedestrian. Sergeant Wilson would also act out the role of a stranger attempting to entice the children to the cart with an offer of candy. Officer Magee, in uniform, narrated the scenes and instructed the students on the safety lessons they were meant to convey. After these and other demonstrations, the students were allowed to examine a patrol vehicle parked nearby.

On the morning of September 15, 1995, the final day of the program, Safety City was visited by two kindergarten classes from North Cedar Elementary School in the Cedar Falls Community School District. The classes were led by their teachers, Judy Hagen and Katie Duax. Each class was also accompanied by two parents. Upon arriving at Safety City, Ms. Hagen's class went inside the community center while Ms. Duax's class of eighteen pupils, Derek among them, remained in the parking lot.

The police division's program concluded without incident. It was followed by the hospital's presentation, conducted by two paramedics at the rear of an ambulance. Sergeant Wilson parked the golf cart nearby and watched from the seat. When the class was invited to tour the ambulance, he joined the other adults who were assisting the children entering and exiting the emergency vehicle. The golf cart was left unattended with the key in the ignition.

At some point one of the parents observed, without alarm, that several of the children had gone over to the cart and gotten on. Shortly thereafter, one of the children apparently stepped on the accelerator pedal, releasing the cart's brake and activating its electric motor. Before any of the adults could stop the cart, it had forcefully pinned Derek against the side of the ambulance. Derek sustained injuries from which he later died.

Derek's estate brought a wrongful death action against the City. The City cross-petitioned against both the District and the hospital, alleging they were in some measure responsible for the accident. The City eventually admitted fault and a trial was held solely on the issue of damages, resulting in a jury award to Derek's estate of $909,260.51. Another trial was then held on the City's claim for contribution. The jury returned a verdict finding the City 66% at fault, and the District 34% at fault.

The School District's appeal raises several issues in connection with the district court's adverse rulings on the District's motion to compel discovery, motions for summary judgment, directed verdict, judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and new trial. We address each issue in turn, reviewing for errors of law. Lovick v. Wil-Rich, 588 N.W.2d 688, 692 (Iowa 1999); Keystone Elec. Mfg., Co. v. City of Des Moines, 586 N.W.2d 340, 345 (Iowa 1998).

II. Sufficiency of Evidence

The jury was instructed to allocate a percentage of fault to the District if the City proved that Derek's death was proximately caused by the District's failure to use ordinary care in (1) implementing

617 N.W.2d 16
school board policy for field trips, or (2) supervising the kindergarten class at Safety City. The District contends the evidence did not establish that it failed in either obligation, i.e., that it was negligent, or that any negligence on its part was the proximate cause of Derek's death

When a party challenges the sufficiency of evidence to support the jury's factual findings, we examine the record to determine whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence. Boham v. City of Sioux City, 567 N.W.2d 431, 435 (Iowa 1997). In so doing, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, taking into consideration all reasonable inferences the jury may have made. Id. The factual issues of negligence and proximate cause are for the jury to resolve, and only in exceptional cases may we decide them as a matter of law. Iowa R.App. P. 14(f)(10); Vogan v. Hayes Appraisal Assocs., Inc., 588 N.W.2d 420, 424 (Iowa 1999).

As noted, the facts set forth above are largely undisputed and could be gathered from the trial testimony of the adults present at the scene of the accident. Additional testimony was offered by Dr. Edward Dragan, an expert in the field of educational administration, and Brian Campbell, North Cedar Elementary School's new principal at the time of the accident.

During Principal Campbell's testimony, the jury was informed the District's policy manual had the following rule: "Supervision shall be provided as needed for student activities. The principal will be responsible for determining the amount and type of supervision appropriate for the activity." Principal Campbell testified that he could not recall having reviewed or evaluated the Safety City program prior to the accident, or having spoken with Ms. Duax about the trip, or having made a determination as to the type of supervision which would be appropriate. Instead, he testified he relied on the experience of the teachers and the knowledge that the field trip was in a controlled environment and had been going on for a number of years. He further testified he did not believe it necessary to give specific instructions to parent volunteers concerning supervision of the children at Safety City.

Dr. Dragan gave a contrary opinion, critical of the principal's failure to hold a meeting with the teachers prior to the field trip during which they would discuss the appropriateness of the supervision planned for the activity. He testified this was particularly necessary given that Ms. Duax was in her first year at North Cedar, given the age of the children, and given that the field trip was taking place early in the school year. He suggested the teacher should have been instructed to meet with the parent volunteers beforehand to explain the nature of the field trip and to specifically assign to them students who they would supervise.

Dr. Dragan also opined that Ms. Duax did not provide the appropriate level of supervision at Safety City. He referred to evidence that she was facing the side door of the ambulance at the time of the accident, helping the children alight from the vehicle. He contended she should have been in a position to supervise the entire class, having one of the other adults assist the students at the door. Dr. Dragan reiterated that the teacher should have assigned to each parent specific supervisory responsibilities, including a group of students to supervise.

After considering the record in the light most favorable to the verdict, we believe substantial evidence supports a finding of negligence under either specification. At the time of the accident there were eight adults within a few yards of the class— three police officers, two paramedics, two parents, and the teacher. But only one, Ms. Duax, had the District's responsibility for supervising the children. With assistance from other adults present, she was in fact supervising the children exiting the side of the ambulance, protecting them

617 N.W.2d 17
from the danger of a fall. The jury could find, however, that her supervision did not extend to other children in the class, who were able to move from the ambulance to play on the unattended golf cart. The jury could further find that the principal's and teacher's failure to delegate supervisory responsibility to other adults who could have supervised the children while Ms. Duax was occupied constituted a failure to use ordinary care.

The District points out that one of the parent volunteers did notice the children on the cart. It argues that Ms. Duax and the other adults had no way of knowing that...

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51 practice notes
  • Munn v. Hotchkiss Sch., SC 19525
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 11, 2017
    ...658, 666 (Fla. 1982) ; Doe Parents No. 1 v. State Dept. of Education , 100 Hawai'i 34, 74, 58 P.3d 545 (2002) ; Bellman v. Cedar Falls , 617 N.W.2d 11, 21 (Iowa 2000) ; Beshears v. Unified School District No. 305 , 261 Kan. 555, 563, 930 P.2d 1376 (1997) ; Williams v. Kentucky Dept. of Educ......
  • Bellino Fireworks, Inc. v. City of Ankeny, No. 4:17-cv-00212-RGE-CFB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • July 19, 2018
    ...the discretionary function exception was designed to shield." 332 F.Supp.3d 1099 City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Cmty. Sch. Dist. , 617 N.W.2d 11, 19 (Iowa 2000) (citing Goodman v. City of Le Claire , 587 N.W.2d 232, 237-38 (Iowa 1998) (citing Berkovitz v. United States , 486 U.S. 531, 1......
  • Bruning v. Carroll Community School Dist., No. C04-3091-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • April 19, 2007
    ...to either question is "no," the discretionary function exemption does not apply. City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Cmty. Sch. Dist., 617 N.W.2d 11, 19 (Iowa 2000). A discretionary function generally involves the evaluation of broad policy factors such as the financial, political, economic,......
  • Harrington v. Wilber, No. 4:03-CV-90616.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • January 27, 2005
    ...to either question is "no," the discretionary function exemption does not apply. City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Community Sch. Dist., 617 N.W.2d 11, 19 (Iowa 2000). A "discretionary function" generally involves the evaluation of broad policy factors such as the financial, political, eco......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
51 cases
  • Munn v. Hotchkiss Sch., SC 19525
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 11, 2017
    ...658, 666 (Fla. 1982) ; Doe Parents No. 1 v. State Dept. of Education , 100 Hawai'i 34, 74, 58 P.3d 545 (2002) ; Bellman v. Cedar Falls , 617 N.W.2d 11, 21 (Iowa 2000) ; Beshears v. Unified School District No. 305 , 261 Kan. 555, 563, 930 P.2d 1376 (1997) ; Williams v. Kentucky Dept. of Educ......
  • Bellino Fireworks, Inc. v. City of Ankeny, No. 4:17-cv-00212-RGE-CFB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • July 19, 2018
    ...the discretionary function exception was designed to shield." 332 F.Supp.3d 1099 City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Cmty. Sch. Dist. , 617 N.W.2d 11, 19 (Iowa 2000) (citing Goodman v. City of Le Claire , 587 N.W.2d 232, 237-38 (Iowa 1998) (citing Berkovitz v. United States , 486 U.S. 531, 1......
  • Bruning v. Carroll Community School Dist., No. C04-3091-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • April 19, 2007
    ...to either question is "no," the discretionary function exemption does not apply. City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Cmty. Sch. Dist., 617 N.W.2d 11, 19 (Iowa 2000). A discretionary function generally involves the evaluation of broad policy factors such as the financial, political, economic,......
  • Harrington v. Wilber, No. 4:03-CV-90616.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • January 27, 2005
    ...to either question is "no," the discretionary function exemption does not apply. City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Community Sch. Dist., 617 N.W.2d 11, 19 (Iowa 2000). A "discretionary function" generally involves the evaluation of broad policy factors such as the financial, political, eco......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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