In general, school liability refers to the concept of holding a school legally responsible for its actions or inactions under the law. Thus, it is no surprise that the majority of lawsuits that are filed against a school or a school employee are grounded in tort law.
Specifically, for cases that involve a student being injured by another student at school, the question of who should be held responsible will turn on two key principles found in tort law: intentional torts and negligence.
Intentional torts can be described as acts that are done on purpose in order to harm another individual. For example, if a student is bullied or harassed by another student at school and they suffer a physical and/or emotional harm from it, then the school could potentially be held liable for their injuries.
On the other hand, negligence is defined as the failure to use reasonable care, which then results in damages or injuries to another. Lawsuits that are brought against schools based on a claim for negligence, will hinge on whether the student’s injury was foreseeable or not.
For instance, if the school knew that a certain student was constantly being bullied by another student and they continued to do nothing about it, then they may be held liable for any injuries that the bullied student sustained. Most school liability cases arise from this latter tort principle, namely, the doctrine of negligence.
Regardless of which type of tort law applies, however, lawsuits that concern public schools and injuries caused by students require an extra step to determine if the school can be held liable. Almost every state has created its own strict process that must be followed before an individual will be allowed to file a claim.
Part of the reason for these state-specific procedures is because a public school is considered to be a government entity under the law. Thus, public schools are protected by the doctrine of “sovereign immunity”, meaning they enjoy some governmental privileges and will be shielded from certain lawsuits.
Therefore, if your child attends a public school and has suffered an injury caused by another student, then it is strongly recommended that you consult a local personal injury lawyer for further legal assistance immediately.
If My Child Gets Hurt at School, Is the School Liable?
For approximately nine months out of every year, parents send their children off to school hoping they never have to ask the dreaded question — is a school liable for injuries? Again, the answer to this question is: it depends on the case.
One of the best ways to begin finding a solid answer to this question is by determining whether the child attends a public or private school. Generally speaking, it is much easier to initiate a lawsuit against a private school than a public one because private schools are not considered government entities. They are businesses that are operated and owned by private individuals or corporate shareholders.
Next, a parent should identify the chain of events leading up to their child’s injury. For instance, how did it happen? Who caused their injury (e.g., a school faculty member, another student, defective playground equipment, etc.)? Was the injury foreseeable and could the school have reasonably prevented the injury?
The answer to each of these questions can bring a parent one step closer to figuring out whether they may be able to recover damages from a school for any injuries that their child has suffered while at school or on school property.
As mentioned, it will be much more difficult to file a claim against a public school than it will be for a private. However, all lawsuits that involve a school are largely based on facts. Thus, it is best that a parent consult a personal injury lawyer before they attempt to take legal action against their child’s school.
Is a School Liable for the Acts of Students?
Whether a school is liable for a child’s injuries that are caused by other students at a school is a complicated issue that has increasingly come up over the past few decades. As with all of the other questions, the answer is contingent on the facts of each case. Also, again, the majority of these cases will turn on whether the injury was due to an intentional tort or the negligent actions of the school or school faculty member.
For example, if a school knows its student body has a problem with bullying incidents and they fail to punish students who physically harm other students or fail to implement policies to prevent such incidents from occurring, then the school may be held liable for injuries that are caused by other students.
Alternatively, if the school knows or should have known about a location on its property where fights are constantly held (e.g., a school playground or parking lot) and fail to install safety measures like a security guard or camera, then they can also be held liable for injuries stemming from these reasons as well.
On the other hand, if the injuries resulted from an event that was not foreseeable, the school did not know or reasonably should have known about, took place outside of school hours, or occurred during extracurricular activities where there was an assumption of risk (e.g., football), then it may not be possible to hold the school liable for the acts of other students.
Under What Conditions May A School Be Held Liable?
There are many other circumstances under which a school can be held liable. A common example of such a situation is when a child is injured on school grounds. This can happen in a random slip and fall accident like in a school cafeteria, on rusty playground equipment during recess, or while tripping on school stairs that are improperly maintained. In such instances, the school may be sued on a claim for premises liability.
Another issue that a school may be held liable for is if they hire negligent faculty members. For example, if the school neglected to perform a background check on a teacher who has repeatedly been fired from other schools for abusing children and that teacher abuses students at the current school.
Alternatively, a school may also be held liable if a school sports coach was negligent in their supervision of children and one of them got hurt while under their care.
One other scenario that commonly comes up in school liability cases is when there is an accident involving school bus injuries. For instance, if a school bus crashes into another vehicle on its way to school and some of the kids on the bus are injured, or if a school bus is traveling to a team sporting event and the school athletes on the bus suffer harm.
Does the School Have Any Defenses Against Liability for a Student Injury?
There are several defenses that may be available in cases concerning school liability for student injury. Many of these defenses are similar, if not the same, as those raised in a standard case for negligence. Such defenses include:
- Assumption of risk;
- The doctrine of sovereign immunity;
- Comparative or contributory negligence; and/or
- Lack of evidence or failure to satisfy the necessary elements of proof.
In addition, there may be other defenses that a school can raise based on the facts of a specific case. For example, if the injury occurred outside of school hours, the parties had no reason to be on school grounds (e.g., no extracurriculars were occurring at the time), or if the injury was sustained in a random attack and was not foreseeable.
To learn more about the potential defenses that a school might be able to raise against a student injury lawsuit, a representative should speak to a local personal injury lawyer for further guidance.
Should I Seek Out the Services of a Lawyer?
As is evident from the above discussion, school injury lawsuits are primarily based on facts, meaning that the outcomes of these cases are known to vary widely and will depend on the laws of the jurisdiction hearing the case. So, even though a student may have been injured while at school or on school property, it does not necessarily mean that the school can be held liable for the harm that was done to them.
Thus, if your child attends a public school and was involved in an incident with another student there that caused them to suffer injuries, then it may be in your best interest to speak to a local personal injury lawyer to find out whether you can file a claim against your child’s school.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to predict your chances of success in bringing a lawsuit, can identify other potential options you may have to seek legal recourse if filing a lawsuit against the school is not possible, and can discuss the types of remedies you may be able to recover in either scenario. Your lawyer can also assist you in preparing your case and drafting any necessary legal documents.
Additionally, your lawyer can answer any questions or concerns you may have throughout the process, and can provide representation in court on the matter.