The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously decided that a school district and its school nurse are not liable for failing to inform a student’s parents about the results of their student’s eye test. A student at the Mullica Township Elementary School during the 2001-2002 school year was administered a visual acuity test as part of a public health initiative. The student failed the test in her right eye, but her parents were not notified. In 2004, the student was given a second visual acuity test, which she also failed in her right eye. After the 2004 test, the parents were notified of the results from the first and second screenings.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants breached their duty of care by failing to provide timely notification of the results from the first screening in violation of N.J.A.C. 6A:16-2.2(1)(6), which provides that local school boards must provide certain health screenings to their students. Defendants argued that they were immunized pursuant to the Tort Claims Act (TCA), N.J.S.A. 59:6-4, which provides immunity to public entities and their employees for failing to conduct an adequate physical or mental examination for the purpose of determining whether the examinee has a disease of a physical or mental condition. The parents and student asserted that taking a person’s medical history, the visual acuity testing itself, and the communication of the test results are encompassed by the definition of a physical examination, and therefore, are afforded immunity under N.J.S.A. 59:6-4.
The court found that the eye test was part of a physical examination under the TCA and held that immunizing the school district and its employees under N.J.S.A. 59:6-4 does not render meaningless the provisions of N.J.A.C. 6A:16-2.2(1)(6), which provide that local school boards must provide certain health screenings, including visual acuity tests, to their students. In the event that a screening uncovers a deficiency, the school district shall notify the parent of any student suspected of deviation from the recommended standard. Regulations by the State Board of Education and by Mullica Township cannot determine, limit, or redefine the Legislature’s intent in enacting the TCA.