The Greenwich Board of Education and the Town of Greenwich have filed legal papers seeking to have the Cos Cob School PTA and the Greenwich PTA Council named as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by a Cos Cob parent.
It's an action that the National PTA says appears to be unusual and unknown how it could impact parents' involvement with their school districts.
The town and board's action stems from a lawsuit filed in July by Max Parker of Cos Cob on behalf of his daughter who it is claimed suffered a broken leg during a Cos Cob School PTA-sponsored ice cream social on school grounds in June 2010. The suit was filed against the Board of Ed and the Children's Center of Cos Cob, an after-school program run at the school.
In the suit, Parker claims that because the center didn't provide adequate supervision of children in the program at a Board of Ed facility, a child retrieving a soccer ball collided with his daughter, causing her injuries. He is seeking more than $15,000 in damages.
In a prepared statement, Board of Education Chair Leslie Moriarty said, “We wish to clarify that the Board has not brought a lawsuit against the CCS PTA, nor the PTAC. Rather, the Board has itself been sued regarding an incident that allegedly occurred at a Cos Cob School PTA event.
"Since the event, an ice cream social, in question was a Cos Cob School PTA sponsored and supervised event with no oversight by the Board or school personnel, and since the Plaintiff did not name the PTA as a defendant in the existing lawsuit, the Board has now exercised a legal mechanism available to defendants in existing lawsuits to bring into the lawsuit other parties who had an involvement in the events in question and may be liable to the Plaintiff for his damages," Moriarty said in her statement. "This is known as apportionment of liability. Therefore, the Board has issued an apportionment complaint as to the Cos Cob School PTA and the PTA Council; not individual officers or members of the PTA."
Moriarty also explained, "We have exercised this legal option because the Board and the Town have an obligation to the taxpayers of this Town to ensure that all involved parties are brought into any lawsuit for damages against the Board or the Town." She added, "Therefore, in the event there is a judgment or settlement of the Plaintiff’s claim for damages, it is not just the Board or the Town that is responsible, using taxpayer monies, but other potentially liable parties are also included that may have had a more direct involvement in the events.”
Lisa Beth Savtiz, president of the PTA Council which is the umbrella organization formed by the 15 PTAs of the Greenwich Public Schools, declined to comment on the action when contacted by Greenwich Patch Wednesday. She also declined to discuss what impact the action would have on future PTA-sponsored events or whether parents would be leery of becoming involved with the PTA with the specter of legal action hanging in the balance.
Moriarty said in her statement said, "Any organization running programs has liability risk, including the BOE and the PTAs. Both the BoE and the PTA have liability insurance to cover this type of risk. Additionally, the BOE requires proof that the organizations that use BOE facilities hold such insurance."
She said, "According to Town attorneys, apportionment of liability is not uncommon and has been exercised by the Town in a number of lawsuits. An example that occurred approximately five years ago, involved a suit against a school PTA, the Principal and the Superintendent. While, in this case, the PTA was part of the original suit, the Town did apportion liability to the vendor contracted by the PTA for the event in question. This legal mechanism is commonly used to ensure that all parties involved are participants in the legal action."
Moriarty added, "In this particular case, with the Cos Cob School PTA, the apportionment filing had to do with the choices made by the Plaintiff in filing the claim; in that not all the involved parties were brought into the proceedings in the original suit."
Through an assistant, Assistant Town Attorney Aamina Ahmad said she would not comment on pending litigation.
James Martinez, a spokesman for the National PTA that is based in Alexandria, VA, the legal action appears unusual. "I can tell you that I can’t say it has never happened, but it is the first time I’ve heard of this happening," Martinez said. "It is rare."
Moriarty said, "The Board of Education (BOE) believes the PTAC and individual school PTAs are important partner organizations. Their support is an integral and valued part of our district."