Grossman v. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District

Apr 20, 2017 – Santa Monica Superior Court, Santa Monica, CA

Yukevich | Cavanaugh achieved a significant victory for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District on Thursday, April 20, 2017 when Hon. Craig D. Karlan granted the District’s motion for summary judgment against plaintiff Brian M. Grossman, dismissing all claims against the District.  As plaintiff Brian M. Grossman sought over $12 million from defendants, including the District, the dismissal represents a substantial win.  The award also serves as a bulwark against the limitless liability plaintiffs seek to impose on school districts for injuries sustained at non-school events.

Plaintiff sued for injuries arising out of an incident on Saturday, June 1, 2013 when plaintiff fell from an inflatable slide intended for children during the Roosevelt Summer Carnival at Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica, CA.  The Carnival is an annual fundraiser held by the Roosevelt Elementary School Booster (“Booster Group”) and/or the Roosevelt PTA-Santa Monica, Inc. (“PTA”).  Apart from permitting its premises to be used, the District played no role in the planning, organization, or hosting of the Carnival.  Instead, the Booster Group hired a third party Wow Party Rentals, Inc. (“Wow”) to supply the slide in question along with another company, James Events Productions, Inc. (“James”), to provide the majority of the other attractions, including the generator used to power the slide.  Notably, section 38134 of the California Education Code requires school districts, such as the District, to permit certain non-profit entities, such as the Booster Group/PTA, to use their premises while restricting the rental fees they may charge to the direct costs they incur.  In exchange, this section limits school districts’ liability to injuries arising out of their negligent maintenance of the premises while placing liability on the non-profit entities for any injuries resulting from their negligent use of said premises.

According to plaintiff’s Third Amended Complaint, during the Carnival, plaintiff’s 3 year-old son, Merrick, became frightened while standing at the top of the inflatable slide.  Plaintiff then decided to climb up the slide to help his son.  The slide collapsed, causing plaintiff and his son to fall onto concrete over 20 feet below.  Plaintiff sued all of the above for his injuries, naming as defendants the District, the Booster Group, the PTA, Wow, and James.  Plaintiff’s central allegation against the District was that the slide was set up incorrectly, specifically, that it was not properly secured and was placed too close to concrete. 

The District moved for summary judgment in part on the basis that plaintiff could not prove an essential element of plaintiff’s negligence cause of action: that the District breached any duty owed to plaintiff.  Plaintiff alleged the District breached its duty by allowing its premises to be used without inspection, failing to provide instructions, and maintaining control over the premises by retaining the authority to shut down the Carnival.  The Court, while emphasizing that plaintiff did not allege the school grounds itself constituted a dangerous condition, ultimately awarded summary judgment to the District.  Following the language of section 38134 of the Education Code, the Court held that because there were no facts demonstrating the District was negligent in the maintenance of its premises, plaintiff could not establish the District breached any duty owed to plaintiff.  The Court explained the absurd consequences of imposing liability on school districts in this context.  According to the Court, if the District were to be held liable, “school districts would have unlimited liability for events held on their campuses, regardless of their actual involvement.”  Further,  the Court also reasoned that plaintiff had not presented evidence to show the District had actual or constructive notice the slide constituted a dangerous condition.