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Ohio Supreme Court Rules Absence of School Safety Equipment Can Be Considered a Physical Defect

The Ohio Supreme Court was recently asked to consider what constitutes a physical defect for the purposes of establishing governmental immunity under the law. For the first time, a divided Ohio Supreme Court majority held that the absence of a fire extinguisher or other safety equipment in a school can be considered a physical defect such that an exception to immunity could exist.

In May of 2020, the family of two female students filed a complaint against the Greenville City Schools, including the board of education, the high school principal, and a high school science teacher. The students suffered severe burns in December of 2019, when a bottle of isopropyl alcohol caught fire and exploded in their science classroom. They alleged that Greenville failed to provide proper safety equipment, including a fire extinguisher. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing it was immune from liability. They claimed that the exception that applies when an injury is due to a physical defect on the grounds of a government building, was not applicable in this case because the students failed to identify a physical defect in the science classroom. The Ohio Supreme Court ultimately held that the lack of safety equipment or other safety features can amount to a physical defect.

Robert L. Gresham of Wright & Schulte LLC represents the students, and stated that his clients are happy with the majority recognizing common sense elements of responsibility. In this case, that involves taking responsibility for the students’ injuries that were caused by the negligent supervision of the science teacher, and the lack of a fire extinguisher and other safety equipment in the classroom. Mr. Gresham expressed that the ruling clears the path for a court to hear the students’ case in its entirety, and adds clarity to the general assembly’s physical defect exception. He also pointed out that despite this favorable decision, political subdivisions in Ohio continue to be granted broad immunity while Ohio citizens must fight for access to the courts.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, call Wright & Schulte LLC at 937-222-7477 or fill out our online form. Conveniently located in Dayton, Ohio, we proudly serve clients throughout the state.