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New York Summer Camp cases are examples of helicopter parenting; I gave you a perfect child, and no injuries shall occur to my child in your care, if one occurs, I will sue.

A minor at a Scout camp runs out of a shower house and falls down. The parents sue for his injuries claiming he was not supervised. At the same time, the BSA Youth Protection Training prevented adults in showers with youth. The court in this case realized the absurdity of the plaintiff’s claims and held for the defendants.

Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

State: New York, Supreme Court of New York, New York County

Plaintiff: Davide E. Gomes

Defendant: Northern New Jersey Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America (Council) and Boy Scout Troop 141 (troop)

Plaintiff Claims: negligent supervision

Defendant Defenses: assumption of the risk, no duty

Holding: for the defendants

Year: 2016

The thirteen-year-old  plaintiff was a Boy Scout. He and his troop from New Jersey were at a Scout Camp in the Adirondacks of New York for a canoe trip. While at the camp, the youth walked a few minutes to a bath house. While in the bath house, the plaintiff was fooling around and ran out of the bath house and fell suffering a head injury.

According to plaintiff, the main purpose of the trip to Floodwood was to take a 15-mile canoe trip. On the day of the accident, the scouts and the Troop leaders spent time outside in their campsite within the camp, where “there was a little bit of horsing around,” “a little bit of pushing, playing around,” and all of the scouts were pushing and shoving each other during and after a game of touch football, which the leaders told them to stop. As he walked to the shower house the night of his accident, plaintiff wore a functioning headlamp; the area around the shower house was dark. He does not recall what happened from the time the group walked to the shower house to when he regained consciousness on the ground, bleeding from his head.

The plaintiff does not remember the incidence.

Other Scouts at the shower house reported the incident this way.

It is undisputed that other scouts reported that while they were in the shower house, plaintiff took a water pump from the wall and squirted water on them. When one of the scouts told him to stop, plaintiff ran out of the shower house and fell to the ground. None of the scouts knew what had caused the fall.

The plaintiff had been in Scouting since he was 9. He participated  in monthly camp outs with his scout troop.

The plaintiffs brought claims against the troop, the New Jersey Boy Scout council where the troop was chartered and who owned the camp and the Boy Scouts of America and the individual unit leaders.

The claims where the youth were not properly supervised, and the area around the shower house were full of roots, sticks, rocks, etc.

One issue that runs throughout the decision which is not explained is the BSA Youth Protection Program. The program requires youth to always do things in groups or at least two and prohibit adults from actively being in a position where they can observe the youth in the shower.  Even if an adult was with the youth, there would have to be two adults.

This program was put in place to protect both the youth and the adults in the Scouting program.

Another issue in this case is the camp was located in New York. The New York State Department of Health (DOH) had massive and strict rules for children’s camps and substantial ability to issue sanctions for violations of those rules. Some of those rules violate or make conforming to the BSA Youth Protection Program difficult.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first looked at the New York State Department of Health (DOH) rules concerning this case.

As pertinent here, the regulations require adequate supervision, and that “as a minimum . . . there shall exist visual or verbal communications capabilities between camper and counselor during activities and a method of accounting for the camper’s whereabouts at all times.”

The council had a written plan to confirm to the DOH rules.

Council’s written plan for Floodwood requires that supervision of campers “be maintained for the duration (24/7) of their stay at the camp.” Council’s Leaders Guide for Floodwood provides that “running and horseplay have no place at Scout Camps,” and all scout units must have two adult leaders with the unit at all times.

DOH did find issues with the camp’s plan. The Camp and DOH reached a settlement on those issues. However, by law the information and the settlement cannot be entered into evidence in court.

DOH investigated the incident, after which it and Council entered into a stipulation providing that DOH had alleged that Council had violated various camp regulations, including those relating to the supervision of scouts, and that the parties were thereby settling the matter by Council agreeing not to contest it, paying a fine, and submitting a revised camp safety plan. Additionally, by its terms, the stipulation is

not intended for use in any other forum, tribunal or court, including any civil or criminal proceeding in which the issues or burden of proof may differ, and is made without prejudice to [Council’s] rights, defenses and/or claims in any other matter, proceeding, action, hearing or litigation not involving [DOH] [and] is not intended to be dispositive of any allegations of negligence that may be made in a civil action for monetary damages.

The DOH requires that after any incident, a form be completed. In this case, the form was completed by a camp staffer who had no training in completing the form and had never completed a form before. DOH requires that after any incident a form be completed. In this case the form was completed by a camp staffer who had no training in completing the form and had never completed a form before.

Richard Saunders testified at an EBT that at the time of plaintiff’s accident, he was 18 years old and employed at Floodwood as a camp health officer. He described Floodwood as a “high-adventure base” for scouts older than 13 to do back-country exploring. After the accident, he completed a form as required by the DOH, on which he noted, under the category “Supervision During Incident,” that the “activity was inadequately addressed in the written plan,” by which he intended to convey that he had reviewed the scout’s written plan for the trip and saw nothing therein related to super-vision of the scouts while in the shower house. He also wrote that no camp staff was present when the accident occurred. Although Saunders had first written that the supervision was “adequate,” he changed it to “inadequate” based on the absence of an adult when plaintiff was injured. Saunders had never before filled out such a form, nor was it part of his job.

The plaintiff argued that because he was unable to remember the accident, a relaxed standard of care applied to the plaintiff’s case.

Plaintiff argues that his inability to remember the accident permits a relaxed standard of proof on summary judgment, and contends that there are two possible explanations for his accident: (1) that he was struck over the head with a blunt object by a fellow scout, or (2) that he tripped and fell while running over the uneven and non-illuminated area around the shower house, and that in either scenario, the accident would not have happened if defendants had adequately supervised that night.

The court found issues with this.

A plaintiff who, due to a failure of memory, cannot describe what led to his injury is not held to as high a degree of proof on his or her cause of action.

However, even when a plaintiff suffers from amnesia, he is not relieved of the obligation to provide “some proof from which negligence can be reasonably inferred.”

The court then looked at the duty owed by the defendants.

A “summer camp is duty-bound to supervise its campers as would a parent of ordinary prudence in comparable circumstances” And, while the degree of supervision required depends on the surrounding circumstances, “constant supervision in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable.”

The New York requirement for supervision allowed for reality in not requiring constant supervision. The court then looked at the applicable standard of care.

The standard for determining whether a duty to supervise a minor has been breached is “whether a parent of ordinary prudence placed in the identical situation and armed with the same information would invariably have provided greater supervision.”

Moreover, this standard requires prior knowledge on the part of the camp of dangerous conduct.

Moreover, “in determining whether the duty to provide adequate supervision has been breached in the context of injuries caused by the acts of fellow [campers], it must be established that [camp] authorities had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused the injury, that is, that the third-party acts could reasonably have been anticipated.”

Lack of supervision alone is not enough to create a cause of action. The court found the supervision was adequate. The scouts walked to the shower house as a group without incident. Until the plaintiff started horsing around, there were no supervision issues.

The court then looked at why kids go to camps and how parents should deal with those issues.

Moreover, a parent who permits his or her child to attend an overnight camping trip in the woods where the child will be taught skills related to understanding and surviving outdoor conditions, is presumably aware of the hazards and risks of injury associated with such conditions, and it would be illogical for that same parent to require or believe it necessary for the child to be escorted personally to and from every area within the camp. Such a degree of supervision “in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable” and camps “cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of [the campers] movements and activities”

Quoting another case the court stated:

The Court observed that ” [r]emembering that this is a Summer camp, it will be seen that constant supervision is not feasible . . . Nor is it desirable. One of the benefits of such an institution is to inculcate self-reliance in the campers which an overly protective supervision would destroy.”

The DOH report was also dismissed by the court because the person who had completed the report:

…because he had no authority to bind defendants to his conclusion, but also based on the circumstances that he was an 18-year old who had never before filled out or even seen a DOH report, and who had received no training or guidance as to how it should be filled out or the meanings of the terms therein.

The court reasoned. The DOH report also had failures because it stated there lacked supervision just because an adult was not present. Supervision is not only based on an adult’s presence.

Reliance on the DOH requirement of “visual or verbal communication” between campers and counselors and Council’s plan for Floodwood which required the supervision of campers “24/7” is misplaced as neither requires that the Troop leaders be constantly present with the scouts

At the same time, the supervision issue was irrelevant if the accident was not foreseeable. There was no evidence presented that the scouts would engage in dangerous conduct or misbehave. Even if some of the misbehavior was foreseeable, there was no evidence that, and it was not foreseeable that the plaintiff would bolt from the shower house, trip and fall and receive an injury.

As it is undisputed that defendants had no notice of the possibility of misbehavior among the scouts, they have established that plaintiff’s accident was not foreseeable.

Even if the Troop leaders had escorted the scouts to the shower house and stood outside while they showered, the alleged misbehavior occurred inside the shower house, and thus the leaders would neither have observed it nor been in a position to stop it. And unless the leaders blocked the entrance, they would not have been able to stop plaintiff from running out of the shower house and falling down.

On top of all of that, even if leaders were present the accident happened too quickly for anyone to have stopped it. Besides, the acts leading to the injury were solely done by the plaintiff, without interference or prodding from anyone other youth or leader. “Moreover, it was plaintiff’s own impulsive and reckless conduct in squirting the other scouts with the water pump and then running out of the shower house, that led to his injury.”

Thus, as the accident occurred in a very short time span and as plaintiff’s own impulsive conduct led to his injury, defendants have demonstrated that there is no proximate cause between their allegedly inadequate supervision and plaintiff’s accident.

The final issue tackled by the courts was the lighting and conditions of the area where the shower house was located. Because the plaintiff could not identify what caused him to fall, it could not be said the fall was caused by inadequate lighting.

Thus, as the accident occurred in a very short time span and as plaintiff’s own impulsive conduct led to his injury, defendants have demonstrated that there is no proximate cause between their allegedly inadequate supervision and plaintiff’s accident.

On top of that, the plaintiff was wearing a headlamp at the time of the accident so even if lighting were to blame the plaintiff had brought his own. Identifying the area around the shower house without being able to identify which of those conditions caused his injury is not enough to argue a legal claim.

Plaintiff was able, however, to recall the conditions outside of the shower house, which consisted of typical conditions in any wooded or camp area, i.e., rocks, dirt, branches, etc., and having been on several camp trips, was presumably aware of the existence and risks of such conditions. He did not identify or recall any unusual, unexpected, or dangerous conditions, nor have any such conditions been alleged.

The decision of the trial court was upheld, and the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed.

So Now What?

First, more information needs to be given to parents to try to educate them of the risks of any youth activity. On top of this, programs designed to protect kids need to be explained both to why they are used and what the adults can and cannot do, like the BSA YPT program.

On top of that, you need to develop proof that your parents knew the risks of the activity. New York does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.) As such the only real defense you would have would be assumption of the risk. (See Assumption of the Risk and Assumption of Risk — Checklist)

I would include in that assumption of the risk form statements about the kid’s age and prior camping/outdoor experience as in this case. Ask the parents to relate or checkbox their outdoor experience.

You can use the form to determine who else can help your unit or program, and you can use the form to prove the parents knew and assumed the risk.

clip_image002[4]What do you think? Leave a comment.

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One Comment on “New York Summer Camp cases are examples of helicopter parenting; I gave you a perfect child, and no injuries shall occur to my child in your care, if one occurs, I will sue.”

  1. Forrest Merithew says:

    Ha, love this one. Thanks for sharing and your introduction summary!

    On Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 8:03 AM, Recreation Law wrote:

    > Recreation Law posted: “A minor at a Scout camp runs out of a shower house > and falls down. The parents sue for his injuries claiming he was not > supervised. At the same time, the BSA Youth Protection Training prevented > adults in showers with youth. The court in this case realized” >

    Like


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