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Catholic school sued over playground injury

SANTA FE, N.M. — A 14-year-old Santa Fe boy and his father are suing Santo Niño Regional Catholic School and its principal, charging negligence related to an incident in which the boy fractured and dislocated his elbow while playing a game of tag on the school’s playground.

According to a complaint filed in district court in Santa Fe on Tuesday, the boy and his father, Viktor Gisler, also of Santa Fe, are seeking at least $500,000 in damages for physical impairment, loss of future earnings and benefits, emotional distress, past and future medical and psychological expenses, past and future pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

The complaint, filed by Santa Fe attorney George Geran, states that the incident took place in April 2011 during recess at the school, located on College Drive near Santa Fe Community College. The boy was injured when he jumped from the platform of a crowded jungle gym onto a slide, then was either pushed or accidently bumped by another student, causing him to fall.

The injury required the boy to have pins surgically placed in his arm and has impaired the use of his entire left arm, according to the complaint.

“Some 20 to 30 students were then engaged in the game of tag on and around the jungle gym, and the overcrowded activity which produced the injury is a direct product of a complete failure of the Defendant’s supervision of the involved sixth-grade students,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit contends that principal Teri Vaisa is primarily responsible because she had ultimate authority over the site and had a duty to ensure the playground had proper equipment, that students were adequately supervised and that procedures were in place to ensure their safety.

“None of these practices were in place, and the involved actions and inaction represent a breach of Defendants’ duties to plaintiff,” the complaint states.

It also alleges that Vaisa tried to coerce other students to change their stories about what actually happened and to blame the incident on the boy who was injured.

Santo Niño Regional Catholic School and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe are also named as defendants because they allowed older students to play on equipment designed for younger students, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint also says that just two teachers were assigned to supervise a recess involving about 60 students, they did not position themselves to see the entire playground, and they both “actively and passively encourage risk-taking in their young charges.”

The document alleges that for several years the class of sixth-grade boys had engaged in a game called “Fear Factor,” based on a television show of the same name. The game involved students daring one another to do something risky, such as jumping from atop a 12-foot trapezoid, to prove they were not scared.

“Indeed, the male students bet money on their ability to perform Fear Factor stunts, and teachers had actively watched the involved activity without making any effort to stop it,” the lawsuit states. “Indeed, from time to time, a teacher would actively encourage the boys in their dares.”

Messages left at the school for Vaisa or any other school official who could comment on the matter, and a message left for the archdiocese were not returned on Wednesday.

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