We have posted twice before about decisions that reject duty-to-train claims under the rubric of “educational malpractice.” Now Pennsylvania has joined the party. Grady v. Aero-Tech Services, Inc., 2022 WL 683720 (Pa. Super. March 8, 2022), an unpublished, but citable, decision of Pennsylvania’s major intermediate appellate court, applied Pennsylvania’s prior precedents that reject educational malpractice claims specifically to specialized product-related training. Grady involved a small plane crash, and the plaintiff sued (among others) the flight school that had provided the pilot with the “aerial practicum required prior to obtaining a private pilot license” and several individual instructors. Id. at *1.
Plaintiff alleged that the instruction had failed to teach the defendant how to use this particular model aircraft – and particularly its safety features − properly:
The [model] aircraft was equipped . . . with a . . . Parachute System known as [“CAPS,” which] . . . consists of a ballistic rocket-fired parachute that extracts a large, rotund parachute attached to the airframe of the aircraft. When utilized properly, CAPS has been shown to drastically reduce pilot and passenger fatalities. . . . The wreckage of the . . . aircraft showed that the safety pin remained in the CAPS parachute handle, exhibiting that [the pilot] did not remove the pin when executing his preflight checklist. Accordingly, CAPS was not able to be activated by [the pilot] prior to impact.
Id. at *2 (citations and quotation marks omitted).
The claim against the flight school were dismissed because “Pennsylvania courts have not permitted cases of negligence resulting from alleged educational malpractice to persist.” Id. (quoting trial court).
Plaintiff “acknowledge[d]” that Pennsylvania “does not permit educational malpractice claims to succeed against traditional educational institutions,” but attempted to distinguish this case as involving “a precise activity, which Appellant contends is ultrahazardous.” Id. at *3. Adopting the trial court opinion, Grady held:
First, Pennsylvania tort precedent “leave[s] no doubt that Pennsylvania does not recognize educational malpractice as a valid cause of action.” Id. at *6 (citing, Swartley v. Hoffner, 734 A.2d 915 (Pa. Super. 1999); Cavaliere v. Duff’s Business Institute, 605 A.2d 397 (Pa. Super. 1992); Agostine v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, 527 A.2d 193 (Pa. Commw. 1987); Aubrey v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, 437 A.2d 1306 (Pa. Commw. 1981); Alley v. Bellwood Antis School Dist., 27 Pa. D. & C.3d 307 (Pa. C.P. 1983)).
Yes, all of these cases had involved defendants that offered more general educational services, but that was a distinction without a difference. Decisions from outside Pennsylvania have all rejected educational malpractice claims against flight and other types of trade schools. Grady, 2022 WL 683720, at *7-9 (discussing Moss Rehab v. White, 692 A.2d 902, 905 (Del. 1997); Waugh v. Morgan Stanley & Co., 966 N.E.2d 540, 553-54 (Ill. App. 2012); Glorvigen v. Cirrus Design Corp., 796 N.W.2d 541, 553 (Minn. App. 2011), aff’d, 816 N.W.2d 572 (Minn. 2012), and Dallas Airmotive, Inc. v. FlightSafety International, Inc., 277 S.W.3d 696, 700-01 (Mo. App. 2008); Page v. Klein Tools, Inc., 610 N.W.2d 900, 906 (Mich. 2000)) (all of which we discussed in our prior posts).
Further, allowing educational malpractice claims would be contrary to public policy. The “most instructive” cases:
have outlined a compelling public policy rationale of why educational malpractice is disfavored, which are: (1) the lack of a satisfactory standard of care by which to evaluate an educator; (2) the inherent uncertainties about causation and the nature of damages in light of such intervening factors as a student’s, attitude, motivation, temperament, past experience, and home environment; (3) the potential for a flood of litigation against schools; and (4) the possibility that such claims will embroil the courts into overseeing the day-to-day operations of schools.
Grady, 2022 WL 683720, at *11. Grady goes on to examine each of these rationales in detail. Id. at *11-15. “[R]egardless of the subject matter or the dangerousness of the content taught,” these policy concerns “stand.” Id. at at *15.
Thus, our clients can add Grady and its interpretation of Pennsylvania precedent to the arguments against training claims raised in McLaughlin v. Bayer Corp., 172 F. Supp. 3d 804, 816-17 (E.D. Pa. 2016). That court guessed that, maybe, Pennsylvania would allow plaintiffs to pursue negligent training claims under the rubric of negligent undertaking. Id. The cases cited in McLaughlin, however, had nothing to do with training of anyone for anything. Given Grady, and its application of the prohibition against educational malpractice to training involving the use of specialized products, the argument that “there is no [Pennsylvania] state law on which to base a negligent training claim,” 172 F. Supp.3d at 816, should now succeed.