Canada: Case Summary: Rollins (Litigation Guardian Of) V. English Language Separate District School Board No. 39

Last Updated: March 24 2015
Article by Brian Vail, QC

The plaintiffs claimed for injuries allegedly suffered by the plaintiff Lindsey Rollins at an alleged schoolyard incident 19 years in the past, on May 15, 1990. At the time, Lindsey Rollins was six years old and in Grade 1 at St. Agnes Catholic School.

The plaintiffs alleged that while Lindsey and a friend (Amy Lozon) were playing in the schoolyard at noon recess, an "older boy" standing behind Lindsey swung a pair of roller blade skates over his head and suddenly let go of them so that they struck her on the left side of her head. They alleged that although Lindsey remained at school for the rest of the day, her parents noticed that there was something wrong with her that evening. Lindsey's mother and coplaintiff gave evidence that Lindsey had been warm and feverish that evening and acted withdrawn. She also claimed that Lindsey's left eye began to twitch and that she complained of pain behind that eye. The next day, Lindsey was taken to her maternal grandmother's home as her parents were going out of town, but Lindsey's condition suddenly worsened. Her left eye began to twitch more severely, and she began to hallucinate. She had a convulsion. She was rushed to a medical clinic where the first doctor recorded that she was "noticed to have a convulsion", and she was diagnosed with "convulsion secondary to quarry head injury, to rule out meningitis, metabolic abnormality, etc."

The plaintiffs argued that Lindsey had been a normal child before the alleged schoolyard incident and that afterwards, her condition worsened. Her seizures did not stop despite brain surgery. In early 1996, after a failed brain surgery, Lindsey was diagnosed with Rasmussen's encephalitis, which was held to be a rare auto-immune disease of uncertain origin.

The plaintiffs blamed the defendant school board and the defendant principal Chaput for allegedly failing to have kept Lindsey safe from harm while at school. The quantum of damages has been agreed to, and the only issue before the court was liability.

The only witness who could give eye-witness evidence as to the incident was Lindsey's classmate and friend, Lozon. Her evidence was that all other students were outside at the noon recess when the event occurred. She said that Lindsey was facing her with her back to the fence and that an "older boy" behind Lindsey was swinging a pair of rollerblades in a circle over his head, holding on to the shoe laces. She said that the boy let the rollerblades go and they hit Lindsey on the back of the head. She was not sure how many times the boy actually swung the rollerblades before letting go. She testified that it was "quite a few times" and that it went on for "at least a minute". She said that Lindsey fell to the ground and looked as if she was sleeping. She said that she tried to wake Lindsey up by shaking her. She knew it was an emergency so she said that she looked around to see whether there was a teacher or monitor in the vicinity. She testified that teachers who supervised the recesses were always in the paved area where she and Lindsey were, but that after looking for a teacher in the schoolyard for "a minute or two", she found none and so went into the school to find one.

Lozon testified that once she got into the school, she went to the teacher's room and found Lindsey's Grade 1 teacher, McCormick. She claimed to have told McCormick that Lindsey had been hit. She said that McCormick went outside and found Lindsey sitting up and crying. She claimed that McCormick got Lindsey to her feet and walked her back into the school. She said that once inside McCormick's classroom, Lozon again told McCormick that Lindsey had been hit in the head with rollerblades. She testified that McCormick told Lindsey that she would get her an ice pack and a bag of chips and that if she ate the chips she would feel better. This was done. Lozon testified that Lindsey remained in the back of the classroom until the start of the afternoon class—at which time, she returned to her seat and remained there until the end of the school day.

Lozon testified that she had told several others, in addition to McCormick, about what had happened. She claimed that she spoke to a couple of other students in the class and to Lindsey's mother after the incident. She testified that she told Lindsey's mother within a week of the incident that Lindsey had been hit with rollerblades. Lozon maintained that she had a good recollection of the incident. She said that after that day Lindsey did not return to school for the remainder of the school year.

Lozon backed up on some of her evidence in cross-examination. She was less sure about having told Lindsey's mother about the incident within a week of its happening once crossexamined about it. As to her claim that there had been no teachers in the schoolyard, she conceded in cross-examination that she never really paid attention to whether there was one there or not and that it was not a matter of interest to her at that time. When cross-examined about the unidentified boy who had been swinging rollerblades, she backed up on her direct evidence to the effect that he had been swinging them for "minutes" and conceded that he had only swung them a couple of times, a matter of a few seconds.

The plaintiff Lindsey's recollection of the incident was limited and based almost completely on what she was later told by Lozon and others. She claimed to remember going into the school and telling McCormick that she had been hit and that McCormick responded by telling her to go outside and eat chips. She claimed that McCormick had told her to keep her head down on the desk and she would feel better. She recalled having been tired for the rest of the day and even worse the next morning. After the seizure in her grandmother's home, her memory was blank except for the faint image of a hospital room. She conceded that she did not have a good memory of things in the past.

In cross-examination, she conceded that sometimes teachers were not in the school on time and that when she was struck there was no teacher in the schoolyard. She claimed that she and Lozon had looked before they went inside. This contradicted Lozon's evidence to the effect that Lindsey had passed out from the blow.

Lindsey's mother, Elizabeth Rollins, testified that she and her husband talked to the principal and McCormick about what they would do if Lindsey ever had a seizure at school. She claimed that after Lindsey had a second seizure at home, the Tuesday following the weekend in which she suffered her first, she and her husband went to the school and spoke to the principal Chaput and McCormick. She claimed that she asked Chaput whether he had found the student who had struck Lindsey, and received a reply in the negative. She claimed that the principal promised to look into it. She claimed that the principal also said that it would be alright if Lindsey did not return to school to finish the year. She claimed that McCormick attempted to impress her and her husband that Lindsey would pass the school year in any event. After that, they kept Lindsey out of school for the rest of the year.

The defence called the teacher McCormick to the stand. She had been an elementary teacher since 1969 before retiring 30 years later at the end of January 2001. She recalled both Lindsey and Lozon as "very sweet" and "very nice". She recalled only one serious incident involving a student during the relevant time frame, a student other than the plaintiff Lindsey Rollins. She recalled an incident where a boy had slipped in the grass of the schoolyard and injured his arm. She had no recollection of any serious schoolrelated injury involving Lindsey. She claimed that she first heard about Lindsey's allegation after learning of the lawsuit many years later. She denied ever having been told about Lindsey being struck in the head. McCormick also adamantly denied ever telling other students about any such roller blade incident involving Lindsey. She said that she would have regarded any such incident as "extremely serious" and would have investigated to figure out what happened, reported to the principal, and notified the parents. She testified that she learned about Lindsey's seizure only at the examination for discovery when shown a copy of the school's attendance records for 1989–90. They showed that Lindsey was absent from school on May 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, and 25, 1990. The note accompanying them indicated the reason for absence was "in hospital, seizures". McCormick testified that she would have received that information from the school secretary who would have received it from Lindsey's parents. McCormick recalled that Lindsey's mother called the school one time to inquire whether there had been any accident reports written about Lindsey. She was not sure when the mother made the inquiry, although she thought it came after the new school construction started in approximately 1999. Looking at the school attendance records, McCormick noted that Lindsey had no prolonged absences after the month of May 1990 and that she had only one and a half absent days in June 1990.

McCormick testified that she could recall only one incident involving Lindsey in the 1989–90 school year. When McCormick was brining students inside from an outside recess, Lindsey was crying. She recalled asking Lindsey what was wrong and that Lindsey told her that someone had bumped into her. She recalled asking Lindsey a few questions but that afterward Lindsey stopped crying and appeared to be fine. From McCormick's perspective, that was the end of the matter. She absolutely denied the allegations of Lozon and Lindsey to the effect that she offered Lindsey chips to make her feel better.

In cross-examination, McCormick admitted that she had a far-from-perfect memory of events going back to 1990 in her class. In connection with the case, McCormick had given two statements to an adjuster after the lawsuit commenced: in June 1998 and April 2000. When cross-examined on the contents of those statements, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that McCormick's "responses were defensive, and more than once she pointed out that she had not read the statements, or received a copy of what [the adjuster] had written".1 She insisted that she had never meant to say that Lindsey's parents were called after Lindsey complained on the occasion of having been bumped at recess. She maintained that she could not recall any serious injury happening to Lindsey, causing her to call the parents. She testified that in her adjuster's statement she had been describing a procedure that was to be followed for any injured child and was not specific to an event involving Lindsey.

The school principal, the defendant Chaput, was a principal for 25 years for his retirement at the end of June 1990. He testified that he learned about Lindsey's injuries only when reading about the lawsuit in the local press in 1998. He was so surprised at seeing his name mentioned in the article that he spilled his coffee on his lap. He could recall any knowledge or recollection of any serious injury to Lindsey prior to that point in time. He could only recall two incidents involving injuries severe enough to warrant decisive action and notification of parents. Both involved boys who had other issues. He recalled Lindsey Rollins as a name, but beyond that, his recollection of Lindsey the child was vague. He had no recollection of a meeting with the parents outside his office after May 15, 1990 or any recollection of ever being told that Lindsey would not return to school, because she had been struck by rollerblades. He had no recollection of being told that Lindsey was injured while at school. He testified that if he had learned of this, he would immediately have conducted an investigation and followed that up with an incident report.

In cross-examination, the principal acknowledged that it was possible that he was not at the school that day, as sometimes his duties required him to be away from school. On those occasions, he delegated his responsibilities to a "head teacher" who could contact him in an emergency. He could not recall whom he had chosen as a head teacher during the 1989–90 school year.

The plaintiffs argued that the school board and principal had breached their duty of care for failing to provide adequate supervision in the schoolyard on the day of the incident, for failing to investigate and report on the incident adequately, for failing to have sufficient supervisors on duty in the schoolyard, for failing to separate primary level students from junior level students (the alleged "older boy" who had allegedly swung the rollerblades).

The plaintiffs called an expert (Mr. Toll) who was ultimately qualified to give expert opinion respecting the standard of care with respect to supervisors at an elementary schoolyard in 1990 and the standard or protocol for the filing of incident reports following a school-related accident. His evidence as to supervision was summarized by the trial judge as follows:

78 Mr. Toll testified that, based on his experience, he would expect the teacher on yard supervision in a K-6 school, such as St. Agnes, to discharge at least the following duties:

(i) promptly attend on yard duty and remain in the schoolyard until all students have re-entered the school building;

(ii) be visible and move around the assigned area;

(iii) observe the student group at all times;

(iv) assist students who appeared to be ill, injured or otherwise in distress, seeking additional help as necessary;

(v) intervene and stop student confrontations;

(vi) prevent older and stronger students from playing m areas where primary pupils congregate;

(vii) intervene and stop student misbehaviour of any sort;

(viii) supervise the orderly line-up of students re-entering the school following recess and other breaks; and

(ix) report to the principal any matters requiring administrative intervention, for example, injuries, fighting, general disobedience and/or misbehaviours.

79 Mr. Toll indicated that, given the many responsibilities associated with yard supervision, the very presence of a supervisor in the schoolyard is vital. Again, the defendants take no issue with this opinion. Nor is there any dispute between the patties that the yard supervisor should be visible and mobile in the exercise of his or her duties, so as to serve as a deterrent against any type of altercation or other inappropriate student conduct.

Toll also opined that older and stronger students should be prevented from playing in the same area as primary students. He testified that a schoolyard should be divided so that primary students would not intermingle with secondary students.

The defence called evidence with respect to schoolyard supervision. There was a supervision schedule in place at the school at that time. The evidence of the principal and teachers who were called as witnesses was that schoolyard supervision "was a matter of considerable importance" at that school while Chaput was principal. Before the beginning of each school year he called a meeting of staff to go over their duties and responsibilities, including with respect to schoolyard supervision. He communicated that he expected teachers to be constantly moving in the schoolyard and to look for any untoward behaviour or dangerous activity. The principal testified that he adhered to school board policy and answered to the superintendent on these issues. He confirmed that before each school year he distributed and explained to his teachers the supervision schedule and advised them of the board's policy. He noted that in general terms certain things were not allowed on school property, including the use of roller skates and skateboards. The form provided to each teacher had a section on supervision specifying prohibited activities, including the use of rollerblades and skateboards. Although there was no mention of rollerblades, the principal considered that they would be covered under the same ban as roller skates and skateboards. He testified that the policy of the school and school board provided that students were to be supervised by a teacher in accordance with a pre-set schedule. Other than where special activities were taking place (such as a sports game), only one teacher was assigned to schoolyard supervision.

The principal acknowledged that there was no fixed rule in place to keep older students away from younger ones.

The evidence established that at some point in time after the alleged incident, the school changed its policy to increase schoolyard supervision from one teacher to two. The plaintiffs argued that this was the result of a tragic death at school of another student. McCormick testified that the change was because the school underwent major construction impairing the originally excellent sightlines of the schoolyard so that two teachers became necessary.

Also in issue was the question of whether or not the Rasmussen's encephalitis (which the plaintiff Lindsey was ultimately diagnosed with) was causally related to the alleged incident. The plaintiffs called Dr. Gillett, a neurologist, with a specialization in paediatric neurology. It was undisputed that Lindsey's seizure disorder first manifested itself at her grandmother's home on May 16, 1990. It was also undisputed that she was diagnosed properly with Rasmussen's encephalitis after the failed brain surgery years later.

Dr. Gillett testified that Rasmussen's encephalitis was a rare disease of unknown aetiology. He noted that it tended to be more present in children than in adults and that it would be paediatric neurologists who would most likely see patients with that disease. Dr. Gillett noted that the plaintiff's medical records indicated that a few weeks before she claimed to have been struck on the head, she had suffered a cold and had been placed on the drug erythromycin ("EES") and that she had been taking that drug on May 15, 1990. Also, when she was seen in the hospital after her first seizure on May 16, 1990, she was described as "glassy eyed and complaining of a headache and holding the left side of her head". Dr. Gillett also took into account Lindsey's school records. Dr. Gillett testified that she had come to believe that Lindsey had many early symptoms of a mild brain injury. She considered it important that the seizures started within 24 hours of an alleged mild brain injury and that they persisted and increased in frequency even after the surgery much later. Dr. Gillett put forward in her report a "hypothesis" that the seizures developed due to a combination of a blow to the head from the rollerblades (resulting in a mild brain injury) on May 15, 1990, and that this occurred while she was in a vulnerable state due to the presence of antibodies in her system:

143 Dr. Gillett's position, which she put forward in a report for trial as a "hypothesis," is that Lindsey's seizures developed as a result of a combination of two central factors. The blow to her head on May 15, 1990, from rollerblades, resulted in a mild brain injury. The mild brain injury occurred while she was in a vulnerable state due to the presence of antibodies in her system. The combination was "the perfect storm." The blow to the head caused the blood brain barrier to open sufficiently long to allow some pre-existing antibodies and/or T cells, likely created by her recent low-grade viral infection, to cross over and attack her brain, triggering the seizure disorder. Dr. Gillett theorized that, because the antibodies and/or T cells were already made, they were primed to rapidly multiply once an antigen—Lindsey's brain—was targeted. This target, she said, would not have been produced had not the blood brain barrier been breached by the mild brain injury from the blow to the head by the rollerblades. According to Dr. Gillett, Lindsey would not have gone on to develop Rasmussen's encephalitis without the blow to the head.

144 Under direct examination, Dr. Gillett described Rasmussen's encephalitis as a rare seizure syndrome, presenting with focal seizures that then became more involved, more frequent, and more serious. She testified, as well, that the disease is currently thought to be an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is one in which the body's immune system attacks a normal component of the body it ought not to be attacking. In the case of Rasmussen's encephalitis, the body attacks itself until all the neurons in the brain are dead and the seizure activity ceases. Dr. Gillett testified that Lindsey's case, however, is atypical. Her seizures have not burned out. Moreover, unlike in the typical case, Lindsey now has some degree of bilateral disease, meaning that both sides of her brain are affected.

145 In the 2008 report Dr. Gillett prepared for trial, she wrote that her hypothesis was that "a blow to the head causing a 'mild' brain injury can be a contributing factor to Lindsey Rollin's [sic] subsequent challenges." At trial she acknowledged that her hypothesis was not supported by any definitive scientific research. Nonetheless, she said that she understood the word "hypothesis" to mean, "what we feel is happening most likely." And, in Dr. Gillett's medical judgment, in all probability, the blow to Lindsey's head from the rollerblades breached the blood brain barrier, creating a cascading effect leading to the Rasmussen's encephalitis.

Dr. Gillett also referred to a Japanese study in 2006, to support her hypothesis.

In cross-examination, Dr. Gillett conceded that the disease in question was "poorly understood" by the medical profession.

The trial judge concluded that there were three issues before the court at trial:

(a) Did the School Board and/or principal Chaput breach a duty of care to Lindsey in failing to protect her from injury from another student while she was at recess in the school playground on May 15, 1990? and,

(b) If so, have the plaintiffs proved that the defendants' negligent conduct on that day caused Lindsey to suffer a head injury? and,

(c) If so, have the plaintiffs proved that the negligent conduct caused or precipitated the onset of Lindsey's Rasmussen's encephalitis?2

Held at Trial: For the Defendants, Action Dismissed

(a) The trial judge noted the distinction that must be drawn between credibility and reliability:

47 In R. v. Morrissey, [(1995), 22 O.R. (3d) 514 (Ont. C.A.).] Doherty J.A. noted that:

Testimonial evidence can raise veracity and accuracy concerns. The former relate to the witness's sincerity, that is, his or her willingness to speak the truth as the witness believes it to be. The latter concerns relate to the actual accuracy of the witness's testimony. The accuracy of a witness's testimony involves considerations of the witness's ability to accurately observe, recall and recount the events in issue. When one is concerned with a witness's veracity, one speaks of the witness's credibility. When one is concerned with the accuracy of a witness's testimony, one speaks of the reliability of that testimony.

It follows that, though witnesses may testify to what they sincerely believe to be true, they may be quite honestly mistaken.

48 It has been said that trial judges are seldom more conscious of their natural frailties than when they are called upon to make findings of fact upon conflicting testimony, and when the conflict must be resolved largely upon conclusions as to credibility and reliability. In Faryna v. Chorny [[1952] 2 D.L.R. 354 (B.C.C.A.), at 357.] a case decided more than a half-century ago, O'Halloran J.A. remarked that "[t]he law does not clothe the trial judge with a divine insight into the hearts and minds of the witnesses." The best one can do, O'Halloran J.A. said, is to reasonably subject each witness's story "to an examination of its consistency with the probabilities that surrounded the currently existing conditions" [footnotes omitted].

(b) The court also commented on the approach to be taken to the evidence of children:

50 In R. v. W. (R.), [[1992] 2 S.C.R. 122 (S.C.C.).] McLachlin J., as she then was, wrote for a unanimous Court that we must "approach the evidence of children not from the perspective of rigid stereotypes" but on "a 'common sense' basis, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses which characterize the evidence offered in the particular case." McLachlin J. added:

Every person giving testimony in court, of whatever age, is an individual, whose credibility and evidence must be assessed by reference to criteria appropriate to her mental development, understanding and ability to communicate. But I would add this. In general, where an adult is testifying as to events which occurred when she was a child, her credibility should be assessed according to criteria applicable to her as an adult witness. Yet with regard to her evidence pertaining to events which occurred in childhood, the presence of inconsistencies, particularly as to peripheral matters such as time and location, should be considered in the context of the age of the witness at the time of the events to which she is testifying.

(c) In this case, the trial judge found that he could decide very few facts with any measure of confidence and certainty. He concluded that on May 15, 1990, the plaintiff Lindsey likely suffered an injury in the schoolyard at noon recess, probably caused by a boy striking her from behind with rollerblades. However, the evidence of Lozon to the effect that the boy in question was "older" or that he had been swinging the blades for a considerable period of time was far less reliable. He concluded that the plaintiffs had "not established on a balance of probabilities that the boy swinging the rollerblades was older, or that the striking of Lindsey was anything but an act committed suddenly and without warning". He also found that the plaintiffs had "not shown that the swinging of the rollerblades was for any time extending beyond mere seconds".3 The trial judge also had reservations about the evidence to the effect that Lozon or Lindsey told the teacher McCormick how Lindsey had been injured. Although the court could not find that any of the plaintiff's witnesses were intentionally seeking to distort the truth, the evidence of the plaintiffs and the defendants could not be reconciled: "one side is [was] either skillfully lying or mistaken".4

(d) In particular, the trial judge found that the plaintiffs had not proven that the teacher or principal were told about the injury:

61 From all this, I conclude that, whether or not the alleged conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Rollins and principal Chaput and Mrs. McCormick ever took place, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated on a balance of probabilities that there was a discussion about how Lindsey was injured, or, specifically, whether rollerblades were involved. I reach this conclusion because I find it to be the most consistent with the probabilities surrounding the then existing conditions.

It was noted that the emergency room records immediately after the first seizure did not record a complaint that Lindsey had suffered a blow to her head. Similarly, the subsequent medical records either did not disclose a blow to the head or did not mention a boy swinging rollerblades or rollerblades having been involved. There was no reference to rollerblades or Lindsey having suffered a head injury and becoming unconscious. There was no reference to rollerblades until a doctor's report of 1995, five years later. The trial judge noted that in cases of seizures, medical personnel insist on learning exactly how such injuries occurred:

68 As Dr. Smith pointed out, when a patient presents with seizures the doctor insists on learning exactly how the injury occurred. I conclude that, more likely than not, neither Lindsey nor either of her parents told the initial caregivers anything about rollerblades. I find, as well, that, even if there was a meeting between Lindsey's parents and principal Chaput and Mrs. McCormick shortly after the schoolyard incident, more likely than not Mr. and Mrs. Rollins said nothing at the meeting about rollerblades, just as they said nothing about rollerblades to the doctors who consulted with Lindsey for the first four or five years after the incident.

In addition, the court found the evidence of the teacher McCormick to have been credible and that the school records did not show the plaintiff Lindsey as having been absent for the rest of the school year after May 15, 1990:

71 I find Mrs. McCormick to have been sincere, honest and credible, though at times defensive, especially regarding certain portions of the statements attributed to her by Mr. Comiskey, Weighing all the evidence, I believe her testimony that she was not told how Lindsey was injured. I also believe her testimony that the only incident she remembered involving Lindsey was a relatively benign one, a bumping by another student that brought Lindsey to tears, and an event not nearly so severe as to warrant a report to the principal or a call to the parents. I reject the accounts of Ms. Lozon, Lindsey, and Mr. Poplawski to the extent they suggest that in a single, isolated moment, and for no apparent reason, Mrs. McCormick acted out of character, or that, as Ms. Lozon stated, she did not remember the event correctly, or that as Lindsey alleged, she was "trying to cover up for a really crappy school."

72 Regarding the question of whether Lindsey missed the remainder of the 1989–1990 school year after her seizure on May 16, 1990, I find that the best and most reliable evidence is to be found in the school attendance records, which clearly show that Lindsey was absent seven days in May, one and one-half days in June, and a total of twenty and one-half days for the entire year. There is no suggestion that Mrs. McCormick, or anyone else associated with St. Agnes, fabricated the attendance records, or had any reason or motive contemporaneous to the making of the records to falsify them. Both principal Chaput and Mrs. McCormick testified that they only learned of the alleged striking of Lindsey after the plaintiffs commenced their action in 1998. I believe them.

73 During cross-examination, counsel for the plaintiffs suggested to Mrs. McCormick that perhaps she had confused or mistakenly transposed Lindsey's attendance data with those of the preceding student on the list, student 18, who is shown to have been absent five days in June for the reason that she was on "Vacation up North". As I noted earlier, Mrs. Rollins testified that she and her husband took Lindsey to North Bay, and that she did not think Lindsey went back to school that term. But, if that were the case, the school attendance records, even allowing for an error in transposition, would have shown that Lindsay was absent not merely for five days in June, but for the whole month. I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the 1989–1990 school attendance records. I find that Mr. And Mrs. Rollins, Ms. Lozon, and Mr. Poplawski were mistaken in believing that Lindsey failed to return to school after May 16, 1990 to finish the school year.

The court also found that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that a teacher was not on duty in the schoolyard when Lindsey was injured:

83 In cross-examination, Ms. Lozon conceded that she never really paid attention to, and was not much interested in, whether a teacher was in the schoolyard, unless she needed one. During examination- in-chief, Ms. Lozon described the schoolyard incident involving her best friend as "scary," and said that she knew it was an emergency. In these frightening circumstances, in my view, it is almost certain that the six-year-old Ms. Lozon did not look for a teacher in the schoolyard for "a minute or two," but more likely for fleeting seconds, before going into the school for help.

84 I take this view, in part, because elsewhere in her testimony Ms. Lozon's estimates of time were occasionally inconsistent and contradictory. Thus, for example, she testified at one point that the boy swung the rollerblades "quite a few times," and for "at least a minute," then that he swung them "a couple of times," perhaps for seconds. Such inconsistencies are entirely understandable in the circumstances, but their inevitable effect is to call into question the reliability or trustworthiness of Ms. Lozon's perceptions in the moment, including her sense that there was no supervising teacher in the schoolyard at the noon recess on May 15, 1990. Weighing all the evidence, I find that the plaintiffs have not proven on a balance of probabilities that no teacher was on duty in the schoolyard when Lindsey was injured. I find it equally or more likely that a teacher was present in the schoolyard, consistent with what Mrs. McCormick described as an "extremely strict" and important supervision policy and practice at St. Agnes, though the supervisor might not necessarily have been in the relatively confined asphalt area, or within Ms. Lozon's immediate visual range.

The court summarized the law with respect to the standard of care respecting supervision by school authorities:

93 At common law, and under the Education Act, the standard of care to be exercised by school authorities in providing for the supervision and protection of students is that of the careful or prudent parent: Myers v. Peel (County) Board of Education [[1981] 2 S.C.R. 21 (S.C.C.).].The standard of "the careful of prudent parent" has become "somewhat qualified in modern times because of the greater variety of activities conducted in schools, with probably larger groups of students using more complicated and more dangerous equipment than formerly." The standard is not one:

... which can be applied in the same manner and to the same extent in every case. Its application will vary from case to case and will depend upon the number of students being supervised at any given time, the nature of the exercise or activity in progress, the age and the degree of skill and training which the students may have received in connection with such activity, the nature and condition of the equipment in use at the time, the competency and capacity of the students involved, and a host of other matters which may be widely varied but which, in a given case, may affect the application of the prudent parent-standard to the conduct of the school authority in the circumstances [footnotes omitted.]

(e) The court also noted that schools owe a duty of care pursuant to occupiers' liability legislation:

97 Apart from the duty of the "careful or prudent parent," school authorities also have a second type of duty imposed upon them by the Occupiers' liability Act [R.S.O. 1990, c. O-2]. As occupiers of premises, school authorities are obliged, pursuant to section 3(1) of the Act, "to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that persons entering on the premises, and the property brought on the premises by those persons are reasonably safe while on the premises." The occupier's duty is a positive one, as the Court of Appeal for Ontario made clear in Kennedy v. Waterloo (County) Board of Education [(1999), 45 O.R. (3d) 1 (Ont. C.A.) at para. 29.].

(f) The court rejected the plaintiff's arguments that the defendants had breached the standard of care. As to separating older students from younger students, it was found that there was "no fixed rule in place to keep older students away from younger ones"5 and that the principal's practice of allowing co-mingling of older and younger students, "were reasonable exercises of his duty and authority".6 The court accepted the principal's evidence "without reservation" as to the implementation and enforcement of schoolyard supervision:

108 I conclude that principal Chaput was a competent educator and administrator. I accept without reservation his assertion that, in the exercise of a broad range of duties as principal of St. Agnes, including those relating to the implementation and enforcement of schoolyard supervision, he adhered strictly to Board policy, and that he did so consistently over the seven years he presided at St. Agnes. In the circumstances, I consider that it was unnecessary for the defendants to call any additional witness from the Board merely to reiterate principal Chaput's own testimony. Principal Chaput was no rogue principal on a frolic of his own, making private policy as he went. Moreover, he acted reasonably and in concert with Board policy in not enforcing by rule the separation of primary and juniorlevel students. Neither principal Chaput nor the Board breached the standard of care incumbent upon them in adopting and adhering to this practice.

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1 Rollins (Litigation guardian of) v. English Language Separate District School Board No. 39, [2009] O.J. No. 6193, para. 41 (Ont. S.C.J.).

2 Ibid., para. 6.

3 Ibid., para. 53.

4 Ibid., para. 54.

5 Ibid., para. 103.

6 Ibid., para. 106.

Previously published in Risk Management in Canadian Education, Volume 15, Number 3

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions