Hoyem v. Manhattan Beach City Sch. Dist.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation150 Cal.Rptr. 1,22 Cal.3d 508
Parties, 585 P.2d 851 Michael HOYEM, a minor, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. MANHATTAN BEACH CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant and Respondent. L.A. 30857
Decision Date25 October 1978

Morgan, Wenzel & McNicholas, Bruce A. Broillet and Darryl L. Dmytriw, Los Angeles, for plaintiffs and appellants.

Harold Q. Longnecker, Los Angeles, Ellis J. Horvitz, Encino, and Edward J. Horowitz, Los Angeles, for defendant and respondent.

John H. Larson, County Counsel, Roberta M. Fesler, Deputy County Counsel, Ronald J. Apperson, Los Angeles, and Ralph D. Stern as amici curiae for defendant and respondent.

TOBRINER, Justice.

In this case we must determine whether, under California law, a school district may ever be held liable when, as a result of school authorities' negligent supervision of students on school premises, a pupil leaves the school grounds during school hours and is subsequently injured by a motorist. Although the trial court held that school district incurs no liability under such circumstances as a matter of law, we have concluded that the trial court was in error and that, if plaintiffs can prove that the pupil's injury was proximately caused by the school district's negligent supervision, the district may be held liable for the resultant damages.

In the summer of 1974 plaintiff Michael Hoyem, a 10-year-old boy, attended summer school at Foster A. Begg School in defendant school district. On July 16 Michael arrived at school to attend classes but before the end of scheduled classes he left the school premises. At a public intersection a motorcycle struck Michael and he was seriously injured. A few hours after after the accident plaintiff Mary Ann Hoyem, Michael's mother, saw him in the hospital and suffered emotional and physical injuries.

Thereafter, Michael and his mother, alleging that the accident and resulting injuries were proximately caused by the school district's negligent supervision, instituted the present action against the school district. 1 In the third amended complaint Michael sought recovery for the injuries he sustained in the accident, and his mother sought to recover (1) moneys she had expended for Michael's medical care, (2) damages to compensate her for the loss of Michael's "comfort and society," and (3) damages for the physical and emotional injuries she suffered on viewing Michael in his injured state at the hospital. The trial court sustained defendant's demurrer to all causes of action and dismissed the action; plaintiffs now appeal from the resulting judgment.

As we explain, the trial court erred in dismissing the causes of action seeking to recover damages for Michael's injuries and medical expenses allegedly caused by the school district's negligence. The causes of action based upon Mary Ann's loss of Michael's "comfort and society" and her own injuries allegedly incurred when viewing Michael in the hospital are, however, precluded by recent decisions of this court and were properly dismissed by the trial court.

1. A school district bears a duty to supervise students while on the school premises during the school day and the district may be held liable for a student's injuries which are proximately caused by the district's failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.

Although a school district is not an insurer of its pupils' safety (Taylor v. Oakland Scavenger Co. (1938) 12 Cal.2d 310, 317, 83 P.2d 948), our cases have long established that a school district bears a legal duty to exercise reasonable care in supervising students in its charge and may be held liable for injuries proximately caused by the failure to exercise such care. (E. g., Taylor v. Oakland Scavenger Co., supra, 12 Cal.2d 310, 83 P.2d 948; Pirkle v. Oakdale Union etc. School Dist. (1953) 40 Cal.2d 207, 253 P.2d 1; Satariano v. Sleight (1942) 54 Cal.App.2d 278, 282-285, 129 P.2d 35. See generally Annot. (1971) 38 A.L.R.3d 830.)

We recently reaffirmed this rule in Dailey v. Los Angeles Unified Sch. Dist. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 741, 747, 87 Cal.Rptr. 376, 379, 470 P.2d 360, 363, declaring that "California law has long imposed on school authorities a duty to 'supervise at all times the conduct of the children on school grounds and to enforce those rules and regulations necessary to their protection.' (Citations.) The standard of care imposed upon school personnel in carrying out this duty to supervise is identical to that required in the performance of their other duties. This uniform standard to which they are held is that degree of care 'which a person of ordinary prudence, charged with (comparable) duties, would exercise under the same circumstances.' (Citations.)"

In Dailey, two unsupervised high school students engaged in "slap-boxing" in the school gym during lunch hour, and as a result, one of the students fell, struck his head, and died shortly thereafter. "Slap-boxing" is a rough and forbidden game which, according to the testimony of other students, was never played when a teacher was nearby. In reversing a directed verdict in favor of defendant school district, this court held that the issues of whether or not the school acted negligently in failing to provide adequate supervision of the lunch hour recess and, if so, whether the student's injuries were proximately caused by such negligence, fell within the province of the jury.

The pleadings in the instant case are virtually identical to those which our court found sufficient to state a cause of action in Dailey. In both cases the complaint alleged that the school district failed to exercise ordinary care in supervising a student While the student was on school premises, and that such negligence proximately caused the student's resulting injury. Under well established principles, such general allegations of negligence, proximate causation and resulting injury and damages suffice to state a cause of action (see 3 Witkin, Cal.Procedure (2d ed. 1971) Pleading, §§ 450, 465, pp. 2103, 2119-2120); the court therefore improperly sustained defendant's general demurrer. Although defendant presents several arguments in an attempt to distinguish Dailey and related authorities, none of the proposed distinctions withstands analysis.

Defendant district first contends that the duty to supervise pupils applied in Dailey and earlier cases does not include any responsibility for assuring that pupils remain on the school premises during the school day. As the Dailey court pointed out, however, the duty to supervise includes the duty "to enforce those rules and regulations necessary (for pupils') protection." (2 Cal.3d at p. 747, 87 Cal.Rptr. at p. 379, 470 P.2d at p. 363.) Title 5, California Administrative Code, section 303 provides: "A pupil may not leave the school premises at recess, or at any other time before the regular hour for closing school, except in case of emergency, or with the approval of the principal of the school." We have no doubt that this rule is at least in part for the pupils' protection, and that the school authorities therefore bore the duty to exercise ordinary care to enforce the rule.

Defendant argues, however, that no California case has as yet held a school district liable for an injury incurred off school premises. Viewing the situs of the injury as a limitation on the school district's duty to supervise, defendant contends that while a school district may be obligated to exercise reasonable care to prevent on-campus injuries, it bears no similar duty to supervise students so as to prevent off-campus accidents, unless the school has specifically undertaken to provide off-campus supervision.

In the first place, defendant's broad assertion that no California decision has held a school district liable for an off-school premises injury is simply inaccurate. In Satariano v. Sleight, supra, 54 Cal.App.2d 278, 129 P.2d 35, a high school athletic field was located across a public street from the school gymnasium, and a 17-year-old student, hit by an automobile as he was crossing the street to get to the athletic field, suffered serious injury. The student brought suit against the school district, claiming that the school authorities' negligent supervision proximately caused his injuries. The evidence at trial indicated that although school authorities were aware that students regularly ran across the street outside of the crosswalk and when a teacher happened to be present the teacher would warn students to correct their behavior, the school had taken no general steps to prevent such dangerous conduct, such as stationing a teacher by the street during appropriate times.

The trial court in Satariano took the view that the school authorities' duty of supervision "ceased once the child was on a public street" (54 Cal.App.2d at p. 284, 129 P.2d at p. 39) and consequently absolved the school district of all liability for the student's injuries. On appeal, however, the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that in light of the school authorities' knowledge that many students regularly crossed the public street outside of a crosswalk, the jury should have been permitted to determine whether "ordinary care for (the students') protection did not require of the school authorities something more than sporadic warnings to individuals and groups in those accidental instances when teachers happened to be present." (Pp. 284-285, 129 P.2d p. 39.) Thus, Satariano refutes defendant's claim that the off-premises location of an injury is always sufficient, in itself, to insulate school officials from liability.

In addition to demonstrating that the off-campus situs of an injury does not ipso facto bar recovery from a school district, Satariano illustrates that, at least in some limited instances, school authorities may bear a responsibility for supervising students when they are not on school property. (See also Raymond v. Paradise Unified School Dist. (1963) 218 Cal.App.2d 1,...

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