Jury Awards $5.21 Million to N.Y.C. Teacher Disabled in Assault
A New York City teacher who was permanently disabled after being assaulted in a school has been awarded $5.21 million by a jury that found, for the first time, that the city's board of education is legally obligated to protect teachers from crimes in schools.
The lawsuit was the first to successfully argue that the board of education has a "special duty'' to offer teachers security in schools, said Robert H. Goldberg, the lawyer for Larry Krakower, who was attacked in a Bronx intermediate school in 1988.
The verdict will set a precedent for future cases, Mr. Goldberg and officials of the United Federation of Teachers asserted.
"The verdict in this brutal assault now adds a legal responsibility to the moral one we've always said the board of education faces to make our schools safe for staff and students,'' Sandra Feldman, the president of the U.F.T., said in a statement.
The jury's May 13 verdict came after Mr. Goldberg argued that the union contract and regulations issued by former Schools Chancellor Richard R. Green obligated the board to protect teachers.
Under New York State law, Mr. Goldberg explained, police departments and other security agencies do not have an absolute duty to protect citizens. So a person who is mugged cannot sue the police for failing to provide protection.
But if a government agency makes an "absolute promise'' to offer security, he said, it can be held liable for failing to do so.
Mr. Goldberg argued that such a promise was contained in the teachers' contract, which requires every school to have and enforce a safety plan. He also cited regulations issued by Chancellor Green, which called for school-safety officers to ask visitors for identification, have them sign in, and then escort them to the principal's office.
Previous Cases Dismissed
Before the jury's recent verdict, Mr. Goldberg noted, hundreds of similar cases had been dismissed because they had failed to establish that the board had a special duty to protect teachers.
"For the first time, a case was tried under the theory that the contract imposes a special duty,'' he said.
Eugene Borenstein, the chief of the tort division of the New York City Corporation Counsel's office, which represented the board in the lawsuit, said the city will appeal the verdict.
"We feel terrible about Mr. Krakower's injuries,'' Mr. Borenstein said, "but this is something we don't think could have been prevented and we don't think the U.F.T. contract changes the law in respect to special duty.''
Mr. Krakower, a reading teacher, was assaulted in a corridor of Intermediate School 183 in the South Bronx on Dec. 2, 1988, by Alfie Sims, a brother of one of his students.
Mr. Sims, angered because Mr. Krakower had disciplined his sister, broke the teacher's jaw in two places. He was convicted of assault and sentenced to a year in jail.
Mr. Krakower's lawyer argued that the school-safety officer had escorted Mr. Sims to an elevator, not to the principal's office.
Mr. Krakower, who suffers from headaches and cannot speak for prolonged periods, took disability retirement in January 1991 after 18 years in the classroom. He now works in a department store, his lawyer said.
During the 1991-92 school year, according to the U.F.T., there were
1,068 assaults against teachers--a 22.5 percent increase from the