Liability Of Public Schools For Injuries To Players In School Athletic Event

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 What Can You Do If a Child Is Injured at School?

One of the first steps to take when your child is injured at school is to determine whether the school they attend is a public school or private school.

If your child attends a public school, then there will be very specific state procedures that you must follow before you can file a claim. The reason for this is because public schools are considered part of the government. Thus, they are shielded by the doctrine of “sovereign immunity”, which protects government agencies from certain lawsuits.

The good news, however, is that most states have some type of strict process set-up that will allow a student or parent to bring some lawsuits against a public school. You must follow these procedures exactly. Additionally, depending on the governing rules in your particular state, you may also need to file a “notice of intent” to alert the school that you will be suing.

On the other hand, if the school your child goes to is a private school, then you may be able to either sue the school directly or bring a lawsuit against the school’s insurance company.

Another item to consider is who caused the injury. For example, if your child was injured during gym class because of defective school equipment, then you may be able to sue both the school as well as the company that manufactured the products that caused your child’s injury.

Some other examples of common types of injuries that a student or child can receive while at school include:

  • Injuries from school sports or activities, such as sprains, broken bones, fatigue, or heat-exhaustion;
  • School bus injuries (e.g., while traveling to school or to a team sporting event);
  • Negligent supervision (this can include teachers or coaches for some after-school activities); and
  • Slip and fall accidents.

Finally, most lawsuits that are brought against a school or a school employee are grounded in tort law. Therefore, if your child has been injured at school and you believe you have a claim, then you should contact a local personal injury attorney for further legal assistance.

Who Is Responsible If a Student Was Injured During a School Sport?

There are several potential parties that a student may be able to recover from if they are injured in the course of participating in a school sport. However, it should be noted that it is often extremely difficult to bring such a lawsuit against a school.

Part of the reason for this is because the law assumes that people who play sports are aware of the “inherent risks” involved when signing up for these activities.

For instance, before a child can play a sport, a parent will usually have to sign a consent form or waiver. So, for example, if they decide to play football (i.e., a sport known for physical contact) and their parent or guardian signs off on their waiver to do so, then the law assumes that the parties knew the risks involved in playing an aggressive sport.

On the other hand, the school and other parties may be liable for injuries that are outside the scope of the rules of a sport or activity.

The school could be held responsible for the following reasons:

  • Defective sporting equipment;
  • Premises liability issues; and
  • If the coach or supervisor that the school hires acts inappropriately or is negligent (i.e., the doctrine of respondeat superior).

The coach or supervisor is another party that the student or parent may be able to bring a lawsuit against for a child’s injuries. For example, if the coach or supervisor does any of the following, then they could be held liable:

  • Telling their players to use excessive force in a game;
  • Physically assaulting a student or sexually harassing them;
  • Failing to treat their injuries or call for medical help if the child is hurt or sick during practice or a game; and
  • Pushing a child beyond the standard limits while training them.

Some other third parties that could also be liable include:

  • Bus drivers (e.g., while traveling to and from away games);
  • Other players (e.g., one player commits sports violence against another teammate or opposing team member); and
  • The company who manufactured or supplied the school’s defective sporting equipment.

Who Is Responsible for the Injured Child’s Medical Bills?

The party who bears the responsibility for the child’s medical bills is largely case specific. It can depend on a number of factors, such as the state law, the element of foreseeability, how serious the injury is, who was involved in the incident, and so forth.

Generally speaking, when a student suffers injuries due to a coach’s behavior or their decisions, then the coach is typically required to pay monetary damages for the child’s medical bills and potentially other costs.

The same can be said about a company who supplied the defective sporting equipment. They may also have to pay out compensatory damages to a child who is injured by their product.

Holding the school responsible for the child’s medical bills is where this gets trickier. Again, this will be very case-specific and could depend on the terms of the consent form or waiver, as well as the facts of the case.

Does the School or Coach Have Any Defenses Against Liability for a Student Injury?

Many of the defenses that a school or coach may have against an action for a student injury are the same as the ones used in most negligent lawsuits. These include:

  • Assumption of risk;
  • Comparative or contributory negligence; and
  • Governmental immunity (public schools only).

The assumption of risk defense is related to the fact that a parent may have signed a permission slip that allowed their child to play the sport and thus they assumed the “inherent risks” involved for participating in that activity.

Although the signed waiver might bar the school from bearing responsibility for certain foreseeable risks (e.g., injuries from standard tackling during a football game), it will not protect them from all lawsuits. For example, a signed waiver will not protect a school from encouraging its players to play “dirty”, or for training them to use excessive force.

The only thing that the waiver does is provide the parent with knowledge about the risks involved and gives them an opportunity to prevent their child from signing-up to play.

Do I Need a Lawyer If My Child Was Injured in a School Sport?

As discussed above, school injury lawsuits are heavily fact-specific, meaning it will mostly depend on an individual case and the laws of a state. Although a student may have suffered injuries while at school, it does not always mean that the school can be held legally responsible for the harm done.

Therefore, if your child was injured during a school sport or other school activity, then it is highly recommended that you speak with a local personal injury attorney to determine whether or not you have a supportable case.

An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to assess your chances of success in the outcome of a lawsuit brought against the school, and any alternative solutions you may have if a lawsuit is not practicable.

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