LAUSD Faces Possible Liability for Injury to Student Accidentally Shot by Classmate—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday ordered reinstatement of an action brought on behalf of a student at a middle school who was accidentally shot in the head when a loaded gun brought into class by another student discharged, apparently while in her backpack, reversing a summary judgment in favor of defendant Los Angeles Unified School District.
The plaintiff “suffered severe and long term injuries to the head, brain, and body as a result” of the shooting, according to the operative pleading.
Writing for Div. Eight, Presiding Justice Maria E. Stratton said there are triable issues of fact as to whether the teacher of the science class had negligently supervised the students. It is only on the theory of negligent supervision that the case is to be tried on remand, Stratton specified, agreeing with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon R. Takasugi that the plaintiff, Issa Al-Bayati (who sued through his mother and guardian at litem, Maha Al-Sadoon) could not prevail on causes of action based on a failure to conduct a search of the gun-toting student, Christina “Ana” Velasco or predicated on premises liability.
The mishap occurred on Feb. 1, 2018 at Sal Castro Middle School, located on Second Street just west of the Los Angeles Civic Center.
Christina Velasco and her father, Nelson Velasco, are also defendants, but were not parties to the appeal.
In granting summary judgment on Oct 21, 2020, Takasugi said, with respect to negligent supervision:
“Short of a prison-like lockdown situation, students who, for their own purposes, deliberately intend to escape the direct scrutiny of supervisory personnel will inevitably find a way to do so….When, in such a case, an injury occurs with such rapidity that supervisorial personnel could have no opportunity to discover and respond to the situation, then claims of abstract negligence will not support recovery.
“Taken together, LAUSD’s evidence supports a reasonable inference that Plaintiffs injury was not caused by Defendant’s breach of duty, because Plaintiffs injury was not foreseeable. Christina had made no specific threat against Plaintiff, guns had never been discovered as contraband at the school, and the head of security stated that there was no evidence that Christina posed a physical threat to any student. Moreover, the school had a policy in place that was designed to prevent events such as this, and the submitted evidence supports a reasonable inference that this policy was actually being executed in the school. As such, LAUSD has met its burden on summary judgment. Accordingly, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to disclose a triable issue of fact.”
Al-Bayati’s evidence, the judge said, did not satisfy that burden, explaining: “Plaintiff’s evidence suggests that Christina was a ‘bully’ who was caught smoking marijuana and was someone who evinced a general attitude of disrespect towards other.
“ However, Plaintiff provides nothing by way of case law that would suggest that this conduct was sufficient to put LAUSD on notice that Christina was likely to bring a loaded firearm into a classroom and accidentally discharge it.”
Stratton responded that Takasugi’s analysis “conflates issues of duty, breach and proximate cause.”
“[E]ven if the science teacher could not have foreseen that Christina would bring a loaded gun to class, she had at a minimum a duty to observe what was happening in the classroom to discover and prevent aggressive, disorderly and dangerous behavior by students, which behavior was foreseeable.”
The jurist noted that LAUSD proceeds on the notion, based on a statement in the police report, that the gun was in the girl’s backpack when it went off. That view is not supported by admissible evidence, she said, but even if it’s so, the evidence does indicate that Christina Velasco had been showing the gun to other students, and “for more than a few fleeting seconds, and for enough time for others in the classroom, potentially including the teacher, to have seen and heard her.”
“A jury could find that if the science teacher had been using due care in supervising the class, she would have seen the gun or heard the statements indicating there was a gun in the classroom and acted before Christina tried to put the gun away and, apparently accidentally, discharged it, or cause it to discharge. More specifically, given LAUSD’s position that the gun discharged while inside Christina’s backpack, a jury could infer that the gun went off when Christina placed it in the backpack to conceal it, and that if the science teacher had indicated her awareness of the gun, Christina would have had no reason to try to conceal the gun. Thus, summary adjudication was improperly granted on the general negligence cause of action because there are triable issues of material fact concerning LAUSD’s negligence in supervising the classroom.”
The case is I.A. v. Los Angeles Unified School District, B313331.
Fahad Sharif and Roger L. Wilkerson III of the Law Offices of Fahad Sharif in Tarzana represented the plaintiff and Michele M. Goldsmith and Jason J. Barbato of BDG Law Group in Westwood were attorneys for the school district.
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