C.T., Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of J.T., Decedent, et al., Appellants-Respondents,
Board of Education of South Glens Falls Central School District, Respondent-Appellant.
Calendar Date: November 21, 2019
O'Brien & Wood, PLLC, Albany (Ryan M. Finn of
counsel), for appellants-respondents.
Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, PC, Glens Falls
(John D. Wright of counsel), for respondent-appellant.
Before: Garry, P.J., Egan Jr., Lynch and Devine, JJ.
Cross appeals from a judgment of the Supreme Court (Crowell,
J.), entered August 2, 2018 in Saratoga County, upon a
verdict in favor of defendant, and (2) appeal from an order
of said court, entered August 12, 2018 in Saratoga County,
which denied plaintiffs' motion to set aside the verdict.
son (hereinafter decedent) was 13 years old when he committed
suicide at the family residence in April 2015. A suicide note
was found several weeks later that suggested decedent killed
himself because he could no longer deal with bullying by
other children. Plaintiffs came to believe that this bullying
had occurred while decedent was attending school in the South
Glens Falls Central School District, prompting them to
commence this action for negligent supervision and wrongful
death. Plaintiffs discontinued their claims against all but
defendant at trial and, at the end of that trial, a jury
found that defendant was negligent but that its negligence
was not a substantial factor in causing decedent's
injuries. Plaintiffs then moved, unsuccessfully, to set aside
the verdict as inconsistent and against the weight of the
evidence. Plaintiffs appeal from the order denying that
motion and from the judgment entered upon the jury verdict.
affirm. Plaintiffs argue that the verdict was inconsistent in
that the jury found defendant to be negligent while not
finding that negligence to be a proximate cause of
decedent's pain, suffering and death. Although plaintiffs
failed to raise that issue before the jury was discharged, we
may nevertheless consider it within the context of their
posttrial motion to set aside the verdict (see Winter v
Stewart's Shops Corp., 55 A.D.3d 1075, 1076 n
; Lockhart v Adirondack Tr. Lines, 305 A.D.2d
766, 767 ). In that regard, "[a] jury's
finding that a party was at fault but that [such] fault was
not a proximate cause of [decedent's] injuries is
inconsistent and against the weight of the evidence only when
the issues are so inextricably interwoven as to make it
logically impossible to find negligence without also finding
proximate cause" (Adami v Wallace, 68 A.D.3d
1397, 1398  [internal quotation marks and citations
omitted]; see Durrans v Harrison & Burrowes Bridge
Constructors, Inc., 128 A.D.3d 1136, 1139 ). We
will, in making that assessment, "defer to the
jury's credibility determinations and view the evidence
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party to
determine whether any fair interpretation of the evidence
will support the verdict" (Adami v Wallace, 62
A.D.3d at 1398-1399; see Killon v Parrotta, 28
N.Y.3d 101, 108-109 ; Salovin v Orange Regional
Med. Ctr., 174 A.D.3d 1191, 1192 ).
trial, plaintiffs testified that decedent's mood had
darkened in the months before his suicide and that, during
that period, he had experienced unpleasant incidents with
children outside of school and was worried about academic
issues. They also acknowledged that decedent had just
returned to school from a family vacation on the day of his
suicide, appeared to be in good spirits and had not indicated
that he was being bullied at school. Several of
decedent's classmates testified and gave varying accounts
as to whether they saw decedent being bullied at school in
the period leading up to his death, as well as whether they
alerted school officials to the bullying. In contrast,
defendant's employees denied knowing that decedent was
being bullied at school and further noted that he had not
appeared upset and had not raised any concerns about bullying
when he met with a school counselor on another issue in 2014.
The conduct of defendant's employees was not blameless
during this period - indeed, it appears that several minor
incidents involving decedent provided missed opportunities
for them to uncover what was going on - but the fact remains
that the trial proof neither established the degree of the
bullying that decedent received at school nor showed that
defendant could have anticipated its impact upon him.
Therefore, the jury could logically find that defendant was
negligent by failing "to adequately supervise"
decedent in some respects (Mirand v City of New
York, 84 N.Y.2d 44, 49 ), but that the pain,
suffering and suicide of decedent were not foreseeable
consequences of that negligence (see Fuller v Preis,
35 N.Y.2d 425, 428-429 ; Stolarski v DeSimone,
83 A.D.3d 1042, 1044 ). The issues of negligence and
proximate cause were not inextricably interwoven as a result
and, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party, "we find that the evidence did
not so preponderate in plaintiff[s'] favor that the
jury's verdict could not have been reached on any fair
interpretation of the evidence" (Salovin v Orange
Regional Med. Ctr., 174 A.D.3d at 1194).
next contend that Supreme Court erred in admitting proof of
plaintiff R.T.'s comparative fault in granting decedent
access to the hunting rifle that he used to commit suicide.
This proof related to an affirmative defense that was
withdrawn by stipulation before it was placed before the jury
and was, moreover, irrelevant to the finding of the jury that
defendant's negligence was not a proximate cause of
decedent's injuries. Plaintiffs' argument regarding
its admission is accordingly academic (see Daniels v
DePasquale, 37 A.D.3d 1140, 1140 ; Bowe v City
of New York, 128 A.D.2d 495, 495 ). In any event,
defendant was free to introduce proof that R.T. breached his
concurrent "duty to protect third parties from the
foreseeable harm that results from [decedent's]
improvident use of dangerous instruments" (Nolechek
v Gesuale, 46 N.Y.2d 332, 340 ; see Klimek v
Town of Ghent, 134 A.D.2d 740, 742-743 , lv
denied 71 N.Y.2d 801');">71 N.Y.2d 801 ).
inasmuch as the jury necessarily determined that defendant
had actual or constructive notice that other students were
bullying decedent when it found defendant negligent, any
error by Supreme Court in refusing to admit certain proof
relating to the notice issue was harmless (see Fanek v
City of Yonkers, 287 A.D.2d 683, 683 ). The
remaining contentions of the parties have either been
rendered academic by the foregoing or lack merit.
P.J., Egan Jr. and Lynch, JJ., concur.
that the cross appeal is dismissed, without costs.
that the judgment and order are ...