School Security Expert Testimony Deemed Unpersuasive

Appellant was injured at her son’s school after falling from a fence surrounding a baseball complex.  She sued the school for negligence and lost.  She subsequently filed an appeal.

Facts: This case (Gutchewsky v. Westside Community Schools – Nebraska Court of Appeals – March 17th, 2015) involves a negligence charge against a school by a parent of one of the students.  After picking up her son from school on a Saturday, they left through a set of doors that leads to a baseball complex, as they wanted to see the fields.  The doors closed behind them and were locked, so they were unable to reenter the school.  After finding the other egresses padlocked, they climbed a 6 foot fence.  Her son made it over, but his mother fell off the fence and broke her leg and shattered her kneecap, requiring surgery.  She sued the school district for negligence and hired Ronald Wayne Garrison, a school security expert witnesses to assist in proving her case.

Garrison testified that he focuses on safety, security, and leadership issues in schools and college campuses.  During his testimony, he admitted that his education and work experience was not focused on school security and proper ingress and egress, which is the subject of the present case.  He testified that Westside did not meet the standard of care in Nebraska as it did not provide any signs that the double doors that Gutchewsky and her son exited would lock from the inside and not let them back inside.  In addition, once outside, the school did not provide a safe way to leave the premises.  He stated that it was foreseeable that someone would leave the school using these doors, get trapped outside and have to climb the fence in order to leave the school grounds.

Mr. Garrison admitted that he did not visit the school grounds or other schools in the Omaha vicinity that have baseball facilities similar to Westside.    He did review photographs of other fields in the Omaha area, which assisted him in establishing his standard of care analysis.  In addition, he testified that he did not know how many schools in Omaha or Nebraska had signs or warnings displayed by doors that were exit only, nor could he point to any research or publications which stated what the standard of care was in case cases like this one.    He stated that he used his expertise and training to come to his conclusions.

Discussion: The lower court court ruled in favor of the school, stating that there was no evidence that they should have foresaw that someone would have exited the doors on a non-school day and become trapped in the fashion that Gutchewsky and her son did.

She appealed the opinion of the lower court on 4 counts, but not the exclusion of Garrison’s testimony.  The lower court told Gutchewsky that they were not persuaded by Mr. Garrison’s testimony.  However, she did not assign this issue an an error in her appeal.  In order for the appellate court to consider error from the trial court, it must be assigned on appeal and briefed.  Since she did not do this, the appellate court would not look at this issue.

Held: The opinion of the lower court was affirmed on appeal.