School Liability for Student Injuries

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 What is a Personal Injury Claim?

In a personal injury claim, the plaintiff contends that they have sustained an injury which is either mental, physical, or both, because of an action or failure to act by the defendant. Courts may award plaintiffs monetary damages for personal injuries.

In certain cases, the events that form the basis of a personal injury claim can also form the basis for criminal charges. For example, a defendant can face a civil lawsuit for assault as well as criminal charges of assault and battery.

What Kind of Injury Does a Personal Injury Claim Involve?

Personal injuries may damage the mental and emotional health, physical health, or both for the plaintiff. Mental health injuries may include the emotional pain and anguish which was sustained as a result of an accident.

Physical injuries to the plaintiff may include injuries to limbs, organs, and other parts of the body. An injury which the plaintiff sustained does not have to appear instantly and, instead, may develop over time.

There are numerous types of accidents or events that may for the basis of a personal injury claim, which may include:

It may be helpful for an individual to examine accident statistics in order to assist an individual with being more prepared and to prevent accidents before they even occur.

What Kinds of Acts Form the Basis of a Personal Injury Claim?

Personal injuries may be caused intentionally, for example, when a defendant deliberately causes a victim to suffer an injury or when the defendant intends to commit an act which results in an injury. Personal injuries may also occur unintentionally.

If an unintentional injury is the result of another individual’s negligence, then the plaintiff may be able to file a lawsuit based on that negligent behavior.

Negligence cases commonly include, but are not limited to:

What is a School Injury?

A school injury is an injury which was:

  • Sustained at school;
  • During a school function; and
  • Under the supervision of school personnel.

This typically refers to child injuries at a primary or secondary school. School injuries may also involve other employees and adults and may occur on a university campus.

Injuries that commonly occur at school may include, but are not limited to:

  • Bruises, scrapes, and cuts from playground accidents;
  • Injuries resulting from physical education class, also called P.E. or gym class;
  • Injuries resulting from the actions of another student, for example, when students fight each other;
  • Student injuries resulting from a special event, such as a play or other presentation; and
  • Injuries resulting from the negligent handling of a student.

School injuries may also occur off school grounds, for example, when a student is injured during a field trip. School field trip liability may still be found, especially when a student of another school employee was behaving negligently during the field trip, for example, if they failed to keep account of the location of all students.

Who Can be Held Liable for a School Injury?

In general, in order to hold a school district or an employee liable, that individual must have acted negligently. This means that the individual’s conduct breached the duty of care to the student and, as a result, that student was injured.

School liability for student injuries, therefore, may often depend on the actions of an individual:

  • Teacher;
  • Coach; or
  • Supervisor.

There are certain school activities which are high-risk and may require the student’s parent to sign a consent form or a waiver. This may release the school from liability, depending on the terms of the agreement.

For example, waivers may be used for school athletic events and contact sports such as football or wrestling. However, a coach or instructor may still be held liable if they are found to be negligent or reckless with a student.

What are Some Legal Consequences of a School Injury?

In some cases, the school may be required to pay a damages award which will compensate the injured student for their losses and medical expenses which are incurred by both the student and their parents. These may involve the intervention of a local or county government agency, which may assist the court in conducting an investigation regarding the extent of the injuries and the amount of damages that should be awarded.

In cases which involve widespread instances of injury, a school may be required to change their policies or to take legal actions, which may include firing a negligent coach or teacher. This is often the case related to school sports, where a coach oversteps the boundaries of acceptable physical training.

An intentional act which causes a student injury, such as battery, may be met with criminal consequences as well.

When is a School Responsible for a Student’s Injuries?

Every landowner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure that the individuals who are on their property are safe. If the property owners fail to exercise this level of care and it results in an injury, they are liable for that injury.

In order for a school to be held liable for a student’s injuries, the injured student will be required to prove that it was the school’s failure to exercise reasonable care that caused their injury. In cases in which a third party committed a criminal act which injured a student on school property, the student is required to show that the act was foreseeable and that the owner of the property took no reasonable steps to prevent it. This may make it difficult for an injured party to recover for a severe criminal act which occurs on school grounds, such as a school shooting.

Can I Sue the School if a Student Was injured at School?

If a student is injured on school property, one of the most important factors which governs the possibility and the amount of recovery is whether the school is a public school or a private school. Federal and state institutions are protected by a doctrine called sovereign immunity.

This doctrine has its origins in English law, which holds that, “the King can do no wrong.” This means that, in the majority of cases, an individual cannot sue a government institution unless the state has passed laws permitting such lawsuits.

Although the federal government and the majority of states have passed laws which allow lawsuits for government negligence, the damages which may be awarded are often capped.

What Are Some Limits on Recovery?

As noted above, there may be limits on recovery. For example, in Virginia, damages are capped at $100,000.

This meant that each victim in the Virginia Tech shooting may only be able to recover that amount from the school. However, counties and municipalities generally do not have sovereign immunity, so it may be possible for an individual to sue them and have their recovery capped.

With a private school, it may be easier to obtain a larger judgment because private schools do not have any special immunity.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you have a child who has suffered an injury on school property because their school failed to take reasonable precautions, it may be helpful to consult with a personal injury attorney. Your attorney will be able to advise you if your state has a limit on the amount you can recover from the entity as well as talk you through any other legal options that may be available to you.


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