eNotes: Liability – November 2022 – New Jersey
November 01, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
New Jersey Case Summary
Dennehy v. E. Windsor Reg’l Bd. of Educ.
New Jersey Supreme Court
No. A-36-21, 086350
Decided: October 26, 2022
The New Jersey Supreme Court decided that the higher “recklessness” standard, applicable to plaintiff participants in recreational activities, should not apply to a coach’s decision to allow a high school field hockey team to practice in an area adjacent to an ongoing soccer practice.
Defendant, Dezarae Fillmyer (“Defendant”), who was the coach of the Hightstown High School girls’ field hockey team, provided for his team to warm up next to the school’s turf field, where the boys’ soccer team was already practicing. The Plaintiff, Morgan Dennehy (“Plaintiff”), was a member of the girls’ field hockey team. Plaintiff was struck in the head by an errant soccer ball during her team’s warm-up. Plaintiff filed suit to recover damages for her injuries.
Applying the Supreme Court’s findings in Crawn v. Campo, 136 N.J. 494 (1994), and Schick v. Ferolito, 167 N.J. 7 (2001), applicable when one participant injures another during a recreational activity, the Trial Court initially granted summary judgment for Defendant, ruling that Plaintiff was required to show that the Defendant’s actions and omissions constituted at least recklessness. The Appellate Division overturned the Trial Court’s ruling and this appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court followed.
The Supreme Court considered whether the modified standard of care that applies to participants in recreational activities should apply to a coach’s decision to allow a high school field hockey team to practice in an area adjacent to an ongoing soccer practice. The modified duty of care applicable to participants in informal recreational sports, to avoid the infliction of injury caused by reckless or intentional conduct, but not negligent conduct, was held inapplicable here to save the Defendant coach from potential liability for alleged negligence.
The Supreme Court’s reasoning is best explained by that Court’s own analogy. “The essence of plaintiff’s theory of liability – that Fillmyer [the field hockey coach] chose the wrong place and an unpropitious time to commence practice – is no different than the decisions that might be made by a biology teacher taking a class out to study marine life at the beach. In these and other similar settings, parents have the right to expect that teachers and coaches will exercise reasonable care when in charge of their children.”
Questions about this case can be directed to Mark Sander at (856) 334-0415 ext. 8915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.