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Summary Judgment Victory for School District... and for Continued Access to Public Parks

Scranton attorney, of Cipriani & Werner, PC, Daniel Stofko obtained summary judgment in Luzerne County on behalf of a local school district, in a case involving a child who was injured as a result of being pushed from playground equipment by another child. The minor plaintiff was playing on the equipment under the supervision of his father’s friend, outside of school hours. The playground was open for the use and enjoyment of the public as part of an adjoining public park.

Discovery confirmed that there was no defective or dangerous conditions concerning the playground equipment (which was in good working order) or the ground beneath the equipment. While the child was playing on the equipment, an unidentified minor rode his bicycle into the playground area; placed the bicycle down by the equipment; climbed onto the equipment; and intentionally shoved the minor plaintiff off the equipment, causing him to land on the minor defendant’s bicycle and sustain various injuries.

A local agency is immune from suit under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, unless its conduct falls within one of eight enumerated exceptions. In this case, the plaintiff argued that the real property exception regarding care, custody, or control of real property, should have defeated immunity. Attorney Stofko successfully argued, however, that the real property exception to immunity did not apply, as it can be applied only to those cases where it is alleged that the artificial condition or defect of the land itself causes the injury, not merely when it facilitates the injury by the acts of others, whose acts are outside the statute’s scope of liability. On March 24, 2014, the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas entered summary judgment in favor of the school district.

The ruling in favor of the school district is not only a victory for our client, but is a victory for all who wish to maintain public access to parks and playgrounds, which otherwise might be shut down by local municipalities out of fear of exposure to civil liability for the unlawful actions of others.