The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that parent-teacher conferences are not the sort of "public" events that a city can use to protect itself against lawsuits by people who slip and fall while on their way inside to meet with their kids' teachers.
The ruling by the state's highest court means Michelle Wilkins of Haverhill will be allowed to make the case that the city owes her big time for the injuries she suffered slipping on ice outside the school.
A Superior Court judge had sided with the city and tossed her suit, saying the school was covered by a state law that bars actions against institutions that open their doors to the public for free events.
But the SJC says parent-teacher conferences, even if held in a public facility, are not public:
Even assuming that the city opened the school to all parents with students enrolled there, such an invitation still would apply only to a discrete segment of the general public. As the city concedes, the school was closed to individuals without enrolled students. The city argues that Wilkins's attendance afforded her an opportunity to participate in her child's educational experience, and that "[s]uch participation benefits not only the parent but the child as well." That a school serves a general educational purpose, however, does not suffice to put it within the public use statute. We do not agree that the benefit to the parent of a parent-teacher conference, albeit indirectly related to the child's education, constitutes an educational purpose for the parent within the meaning of the public use statute. In any event, such a benefit does not convert the activity into one that is open to the general public.