Child Injuries at School
When can a public school be held liable for children’s injuries?
Most schools have set rules governing the provision of safe and hazard-free environments for students to learn in. Liability for injury of children at schools is therefore mainly based on a negligence cause of action.
In order to hold a public school liable under a negligence theory, the injured party must prove that the school had a duty to protect against the child’s injuries. They must also prove that the school breached their duty, and that the duty was the proximate (immediate) cause of the child’s injury. Finally, the child must in fact have suffered some sort of injury in order to recover damages.
With regards to children’s injuries, the duty of school officials generally covers two situations: injuries caused by other students, and injuries resulting from unsafe or hazardous premises or equipment. School authorities have a duty to adequately supervise children, and they also have a duty to make sure that areas such as stairs and playgrounds are hazard-free.
In general, a school official will have breached their duty of care if they knew about an unsafe situation or condition and failed to take measures to address the situation.
What are some examples of common child injuries at school?
Some common situations involving negligence at a school include:
- Injuries resulting from harassment or bullying by another student
- Inadequate planning with regards to evacuations in case of emergencies
- Lack of child supervision during lunch, recess, and in play areas
- Disregard of safety measures for school buses and nearby automobile traffic
- Deficiencies in food preparation and health/sanitation standards
- Failure to provide medication when required
- Unsafe structures or equipment which the officials knew about but failed to repair
- Allowing strangers to enter school premises
Extracurricular activities such as sports, field trips, and nighttime dances usually do not present negligence issues. This is because these types of activities generally require parents to sign a permission slip or waiver acknowledging that the child is assuming the risks associated with these activities.
Who may be sued?
If the parent is seeking to sue an educational institution such as a public school, a school board, or a school district, they are required to file with an administrative law agency such as the Department of Education, which handles such claims. An investigation into the incident will be conducted. After this, the agency will issue an appropriate remedy such as monetary damages or an injunction requiring the school to adjust its policies.
Generally speaking, the parent of the child must file their claim first with the administrative agency before filing a private lawsuit. They will only be allowed to file a lawsuit after the agency’s remedies have been proven to be inadequate.
Sometimes a parent may wish to sue an individual school official. These may include teachers, supervisors, coaches, principals, superintendents, and substitute teachers. The dispute then becomes an issue of vicarious liability. This will involve a determination of whether the school official was acting within their prescribed scope of duty, and whether the official or the school itself will be held liable.
What is a parent’s role in ensuring their child’s safety?
While the school does incur some responsibility for child safety, parents also have a duty to ensure that their children will not create additional liabilities. They should inform the proper officials regarding unique needs that their child may have, especially those involving medication or health issues. A parent’s failure to provide for children’s safety can prevent them from recovering for injuries, or it may reduce the amount of monetary damages available.
Do I need a lawyer if my child was injured at school?
Child injuries in a public school setting are very serious and should not be taken lightly. They should be addressed immediately, so that other children do not suffer the same types of preventable injuries. If you feel that you are entitled to relief, you should contact a personal injury lawyer who can help you prepare your claim. Specific legal requirements may vary from district to district. It may be necessary to inquire with an attorney regarding the laws of your specific jurisdiction.
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Last Modified: 02-11-2013 02:28 PM PST
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