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Gym teacher can be sued for "gross negligence" where he threatens failing grade for non-participating injured student who then suffers further injury

Blake Hurley suffered a knee injury just before starting his sophomore year in high school.  His left knee was placed in an immobilizer.  He and his mother met with the principal and the gym teacher at L'Anse Creuse High School to inform them of the limitations imposed by Hurley's physician.  For the first few days of the weight-lifting gym class, Hurley merely observed.  According to him, however, the gym teacher repeatedly threatened him with failing the class if he didn't "do sit-ups or something."  When Hurley attempted to perform sit-ups, however, he felt a painful pop and suffered a ligament rupture.  His parents sued the gym teacher for negligence.

Under Michigan's governmental immunity act, a state employee cannot be held responsible for ordinary negligence.  Instead, the victim must prove that the state or governmental actor was guilty of "gross negligence."  The insurance-oriented Republican majority of our Supreme Court has interpreted this statute to require more than "aggravated" negligence:  the victim must show "wanton disregard for the likelihood that an injury will result." 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's holding that the gym teacher, Joe Politowicz, was not entitled to summary disposition.  It agreed that if a jury believes that the teacher compelled Hurley to participate in an activity that had been restricted by his doctor, it could conclude that he was guilty of gross negligence.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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