What comes to mind when you think of “Grease”?

When I think of “Grease” I think of Olivia Newton John, John Travolta, a great soundtrack and a terrific movie. But when Zachary Bickford hears “Summer Nights” or “Hopelessly Devoted” he probably will recall the moment when he was working as a stage tech on a school production of “Grease” and a large prop fell on him. According to the subsequent lawsuit, the prop crushed his spine, punctured his lungs and shattered one of his legs. This happened on opening night at Boerne ISD on November 15, 2012.

Zach sued the district in federal court, alleging that the district was negligent in many ways. The suit alleged that the stage crew was short on crew members that night; the prop had fallen down before; the drama department did not provide adequate safety guidelines or training. On top of the allegations of negligence, the suit also asserted that the district had violated Zach’s constitutional right to bodily integrity.

The federal court dismissed the case, holding that neither of these theories could succeed.

Two key points. First, the claims of negligence failed because school districts in Texas are immune from negligence claims unless they involve a motor vehicle. Zach alleged that there was “motor driven equipment” on stage that may have contributed to the accident. But that was not enough to override the district’s immunity. School districts in Texas are liable for negligence only when a motor vehicle is involved.

Second, Zach lost on his constitutional theory because this was, after all, an accident, rather than an intentional act. The suit alleged that BISD had violated the student’s constitutional right to bodily integrity. Previous cases had established that there is such a right. However, that right is never violated by negligence—there has to be an intentional act. That’s why the court pointed out that “This right appears to arise almost exclusively in the context of sexual abuse by a teacher in a school setting, where a school superintendent was deliberately indifferent to such conduct, despite receiving reports from students, teachers, and parents that the abuse was taking place.”

Accidents happen, but liability does not always follow. The case is Bickford v. Boerne ISD, decided by the U.S. District Court in San Antonio on May 26, 2016. We found it at 2016 WL 3033778. Here it is.

File this one under: LIABILITY

Tomorrow we celebrate Throwback Thursday with the Golden Oldie on employee free speech.