Washington Case Law Update: Jury must be Instructed on School District’s Enhanced Duty of Care

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Washington Case Law Update: Jury must be Instructed on School District’s Enhanced Duty of Care 

From the desk of Thomas McCurdy: Under Washington law, school districts have a special duty to protect students in their custody and care. When a trial court fails to instruct the jury on this enhanced duty of care, it constitutes a legal error that may warrant a new trial. Read on to learn more.

Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of a student’s injury in shop class, the Washington Court of Appeals held that the trial court should have instructed the jury on the school district’s enhanced duty of care. Because the court also determined that if the trial court had given the proper instructions, the result may have been different, the error was prejudicial and required a new trial. The case provides insight into the important issue of how Washington courts will evaluate a school district’s enhanced duty of care.

Hendrickson v. Moses Lake School District, No. 34197-6-III, Washington Court of Appeals, Div. III (June 8, 2017)

Heidi Jo Hendrickson (“Hendrickson”) was a fifteen-year-old freshman in high school when she injured herself on a table saw while working on a project for shop class.  She had been using a push stick to guide a board through a table saw when the board came to a stop.  After putting down the push stick, she tried to wiggle the board free and cut her right thumb.  Although her shop teacher could see the table saw area at the time when the injury occurred, he was standing in a fenced area outside the back of the room.  As a result of Hendrickson’s injury, doctors amputated her thumb to her first joint.  She sued the Moses Lake School District (the “District”), alleging that the District was negligent in failing to use and maintain required safety equipment and guards, failing to provide Hendrickson with reasonable instruction, and/or failing to reasonably supervise her on the use of the table saw.  The District raised...

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