Municipality may have voluntarily assumed a special duty to an injured employee based on "justifiable reliance"

Municipality may have voluntarily assumed a special duty to an injured employee based on "justifiable reliance" 
Morgan-Word v New York City Dept. of Educ., 2012 NY Slip Op 05151, Appellate Division, Second Department

Assistant Principal Rolanda Morgan-Word alleged that she was injured while attempting to break up a fight between two students at a school. Supreme Court denied the New York City Department of Education’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and the Department appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, explaining that although a municipality "is immune from negligence claims arising out of the performance of its governmental functions unless the injured person establishes a special relationship with the municipality which would create a special duty of protection with respect to that individual," a special relationship may be formed "when a municipality voluntarily assumes a special duty that generates justifiable reliance by the person who benefits from the duty."

In order to demonstrate such a special duty, a plaintiff must show: "(1) an assumption by the municipality, through promises or actions, of an affirmative duty to act on behalf of the party who was injured, (2) knowledge on the part of the municipality's agents that inaction could lead to harm, (3) some form of direct contact between the municipality's agents and the injured party, and (4) the injured party's justifiable reliance on the municipality's affirmative undertaking."

In this instance, said the court, the Department failed to establish its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, because it "failed to eliminate triable issues of fact" as to whether it assumed a special duty with respect to Morgan-Word.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court properly denied its motion for summary judgment.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: