Most schools have set rules governing the provision of safe and hazard-free environments for students. Liability for injury of children at schools is therefore mainly based on a negligence cause of action.
When a child is injured at school, school officials generally have a duty to help with two situations: 1) injuries caused by other students and 2) injuries resulting from unsafe or hazardous premises or equipment. Specifically, 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.
A school official will have breached their duty of care to a student if they knew about an unsafe situation or condition and failed to take measures to address the situation.
Some common situations that may result in a negligence claim 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 since 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.
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.
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.
While the school does incur some responsibility for child safety, parents also have a duty to ensure that their children will not create additional liability. 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.
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.