Buena Regional’s school board and a middle school principal are not liable for injuries suffered by a woman bitten by a dog on school property after hours, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday.
The high court’s ruling reverses a 2012 Appellate Court decision that found the school board and then-J.P. Cleary Middle School Principal Kenneth Nelson liable for the September 2009 incident.
According to court records, Minotola resident Charlotte Robinson, who died in 2011, was crossing the school’s yard when she was attacked by a dog whose owner lived in a house adjacent to the school.
Nine days before the attack, Nelson received a letter complaining of two other attacks by the dog on or near school property, but did not contact the police or animal control. After the incident, Robinson filed a complaint seeking damages for injuries, contending Nelson’s knowledge of the threat posed by the dog made him and the school liable for injuries it caused.
A trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, but Robinson appealed. A state appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision, saying Nelson had a duty to contact the police or animal control and request the dog’s removal and that his failure to do so was a proximate cause of Robinson’s injury.
The Supreme Court found no such duty on the part of Nelson, saying he had no authority to control the dog or remove it and, on a weekend or extended recess, had no opportunity to prevent an attack on a passer-by or interloper on school property.
Nelson has retired from the district since the incident.
Attorney Mel Lide, who represented Robinson, said he had not yet read the opinion and could not comment.
“I’m satisfied the decision was made by the Supreme Court the way it was, and they recognized that ... someone else's dog is not the responsibility of a school district or its principal,” Superintendent Walt Whitaker said.
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