Dennehey v. East Windsor Regional Bd. of Education, Docket No. A-2491-19, (App Div. Sept. 27, 2021)

NJ Appellate Division weighs in on what standard to apply to coach who was supervising participants of multiple recreational sports at the time.

The plaintiff, a field hockey player, was struck in the head by a fly soccer ball that had vaulted over a ball stopper between the turf field and track. The ball flew into a zone where the plaintiff and other members of a field hockey team were practicing. The Appellate Division decided that the motion judge erred in applying the reckless standard to the coach’s conduct because the facts established that the coach, as opposed to two amateur participants, was not participating in the recreational sport at the time. 

Here, a student kicked a soccer ball that struck the plaintiff, who was participating in a separate practice session in a different sport on a different field. Notably, despite the misapplication of the reckless standard by the trial court under the theory of recreational sports participation, the court acknowledged that the coach, who was a public employee of a public school, could potentially make a separate argument for immunity under the New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act. 

Thus, it is important to explore separate avenues to achieve a desired result when determining the applicable standard. 

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