A tort is a wrongful act that causes loss or harm to an individual. It often results in a legal suit by the party against which the act was committed. Such suits are resolved using tort laws. The primary objective of these legislations is to provide relief to the offended party. They compensate for the damages incurred following the act in question. Tort laws also discourage people from committing similar acts for fear of being held liable for damages. To achieve this, the offended party can petition a court to prevent the defendant from committing such tortious acts in the future (Batten, 2011). It is also common practice to find the plaintiff in such cases suing for monetary damages.
Tort law has in the past been employed in suits involving negligence (Linden & Feldthusen, 2011). In the legal world, negligence has a specific definition. It is conceptualized as the failure by a party to behave in a manner that shows the level of care similar to that which would be exhibited by a person under similar circumstances. It can be as a result of an action or omission. The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed them the duty of care. The defendant must also be proven to have breached their duty resulting in the damage in question. It is also important to ensure that the damage in question is not remote to the act. For this reason, negligence claims may fail if it is proven that the accident could not have been prevented through the exercise of reasonable care (Scott v. Greenville, 1965).
To better understand tort laws and their relationship to negligence, the author of this paper will conduct a critical review of a case in this area. The case is Grooms v. Marlboro County School District (1992). Several issues revolving around the suit will be discussed.
A Critical Review of Grooms v. Marlboro County School District (1992)
The case involves negligence within a school environment. Students with special needs, such as those with mental disorders, should be given special attention in school (“Colorado House approves,” 2015). The institutions should put in place measures to ensure that the welfare of the students is addressed (Batten, 2011). They should also be put under surveillance to ensure that they do not cause injuries to themselves or others. When in class, it is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that the students are safe. Any injury sustained in class under circumstances that are preventable through the exercise of reasonable care will amount to negligence. Outside the classroom, the school administration is liable for any harm that may befall the students provided that they are still within the institution.
The plaintiff, John Thomas Grooms, is a mentally impaired student. He is referred to as Tommy throughout the case. The other party is Marlboro County School District (Grooms v. Marlboro County School District, 1992). Tommy sued the school for injuries that he had sustained while attending the learning institution. When the case was first heard, summary judgment was passed in favor of the school. The judgments were granted on grounds that the plaintiff had failed to present any evidence showing that the institution had conducted itself in a manner that showed gross negligence in its duty to supervise the conduct of a student within its premises (Grooms v. Marlboro County School District, 1992). The judgment by the trial court prompted Tommy to file an appeal. The decision to appeal was supported by the fact that a summary ruling can only be granted when it is clear that there are no genuine material facts to try the case (Glannon, 2010). In addition, such a decision should not be made unless an evaluation of facts associated with the case proves that it is inevitable (Glannon, 2010).
The issues surrounding the case started way back in 1986. At the time, Tommy was a 15-year-old mentally handicapped student (Grooms v. Marlboro County School District, 1992). He was in sixth grade. Since he was a special student, he was pursuing an individual education plan in the institution. The program had been developed by the school to cater to the needs of learners with special needs like him. In the following year, he was allowed to proceed to ninth grade at McColl-Fletcher Memorial High School. His parents gave consent and supported the decision. Following his promotion, the authorities realized that the student was having disciplinary problems (Grooms v. Marlboro County School District, 1992). As a result, the school decided to place him in a self-contained classroom. The classroom was specifically designed to cater to the needs of mentally disturbed persons who were considered to be educable at Bennettsville High School.
Tommy’s parents also agreed to this decision on 22nd October 1987. He was scheduled to begin his classes at the facility on the 16th of the following month (Grooms v. Marlboro County School District, 1992). In the meantime, he was to continue with his studies at McColl-Fletcher Memorial High School. Tommy was instructed by the school principal to attend classes of his own free will. He was at liberty to skip lessons whenever he had reasons to believe that he would get into a situation that would lead to trouble (Guido, 2010). The reason behind this was that the principal was aware of his mental condition and his disruptive tendencies. Whenever he was out of class, he was required to report to a janitor who was an employee of the school.
On 11th November the same year, Tommy was involved in a fight with another student in the hallway (Grooms v. Marlboro County School District, 1992). At the time this was taking place, students were expected to be in class. He was also in the company of the janitor who had been put in charge of him by the school principal. During the fight, Tommy received a severe injury after falling and hitting his head. All this time, the janitor did nothing (Bowen, 2009). He just stood by and watched as the two students wrestled. Following the injury, Tommy was hospitalized for several weeks. He was discharged on 23rd December 1987.
The appeal court found that the janitor was grossly negligent. According to the court, it was a fact that the school principal had taken the necessary steps to put Tommy under the supervision of an adult. However, it was evident that there was an element of neglect on the part of the person in charge of the plaintiff (Grooms v. Marlboro County School District, 1992). The janitor was supposed to take care of Tommy and prevent him from engaging in activities that may cause injury to him or other students. When a fight broke out between the plaintiff and another student in the hallway, it was expected that the janitor would have moved in and swiftly separate the two to avoid injuries (Garber, Gross, Slonim & Allbee, 2009). However, instead of doing this, he just watched as the two students injured each other.
Impacts of the Case on Future Legal Decisions
It was the role of the school to protect Tommy from injuries (Kaplin & Lee, 2007). Given the fact that he was mentally handicapped, the school principal was expected to know that he required specialized care. The administrator had put him under the care of a janitor whenever he was not in class (“Colorado lawmakers advance,” 2015). The janitor, being a school employee, was required to carry out his roles and responsibilities following the policies and guidelines set out by the administration. Any misconduct on the part of this individual would be considered to be that of the school (Alexander & Alexander, 2011). As such, the institution was liable for the injuries inflicted on Tommy within the school environment after the janitor failed to stop a fight between him and another student. In light of this, other schools are advised to try and prevent injuries to their students while on the premises. The institution would be held liable for any injuries that occur to learners as a result of failure to exercise reasonable care.
The court was right to hold the Marlboro County School District liable for the injuries inflicted on Tommy by another student during a fight that occurred within the learning institution. The incident could have been averted if rational care was taken. The janitor was well aware of the fact that Tommy was mentally disturbed and required specialized care. Despite this, he just watched as the two students fought. As such, the school should pay for all the injuries inflicted on the plaintiff. The case has changed the perspective of school leaders. They are made aware that their institutions would be held liable for injuries resulting from negligence either by themselves or by their employees. As such, they have to ensure that all employees adhere to work ethics.
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