In Texas, schools have almost complete immunity from personal injury claims, other than those injuries arising from the use of a motor vehicle. Other states offer students more protection though, and this article will be more applicable to those states.
Kids will be kids, and sometimes children play rough. Despite efforts to closely monitor activities and govern safe behavior, the school ground remains one of the most common places where children sustain mild to moderate injuries.
It is important to note that there are a number of sources and circumstances that can lead to an injury on school property. And increasingly, some of those factors involve violence, bullying, and weapons in elementary, middle, and high schools. What is the school’s responsibility for providing safety on the premises for students during daytime and recreational activities? We will discuss personal injury liability, and how the court typically views acts of negligence on school property.
How Often Do School Injuries Occur?
No matter how safe the premises are, an increasing danger for students and cause of serious personal injuries (and even death) is due to violence in our school systems. It is hard to imagine that schools should ever require the services of a metal detector and security staff to admit children on a daily basis, but that is the reality for many high schools – and, in more recent years, an increasing number of elementary and middle schools in America.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, schools have moved to implement new procedures and equipment to help reduce violence on school property in recent years. These methods can include increased personnel or other safety strategies, including but not limited to:
- An increase of 23 percent in mandatory uniform use (without pockets or concealed weapon areas) for students in elementary schools.
- An increase to 89 percent of schools that employ the use of security cameras and closed circuit monitoring by security staff.
- An increase to 8.7 percent of schools that engage in random metal detector checks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide fact sheets and statistics that report on accidental injury, and serious injuries or homicides resulting from criminal acts and peer violence. Specifically, the “Trends in the Prevalence of Behaviors that Contribute to Violence on School Property” report reveals that up to 7.8 percent of American school children were involved in one or more instances of “fighting” on school property in a twelve-month period. The report shared that in 2015, 4.1 percent of students were threatened with a gun or a knife in the thirty day period preceding the survey, and 20.2 percent of students were bullied on school property.
The data for the report was collected by polling students from grade nine through grade 12. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is conducted nationally across the United States every two years to help identify problems that lead to accidental death, disability, and mental health concerns in teens and young adults.
Identifying Acts of Legal Negligence: Intentional Torts
Schools are required to follow accepted practices of care that protect and provide guidance and safe learning environments for children. Under the “duty of care,” a deliberate or even accidental lapse of care or supervision that results in an injury can qualify as negligent, and can even apply to injuries that occur through subcontracted help (repairs) or outside vendors (catering, special event service providers, etc.).
There are many aspects of the “duty of care” where negligence may occur. In the physical facility, any lack of repair that places students at risk – including the use of chemicals, the presence of asbestos, falling debris, unsafe furnishings (including chairs and desks that have not been replaced), and even food poisoning in the cafeteria – can be determined as lack of proper care.
In recreational play and sports, discontinued or expired safety equipment that fails to protect students from injury can be included in a legal suit. Frequently, sport teams will require the signing of waivers, which should be reviewed by parents to avoid excusing all legal recourse, in the event that gross negligence is involved in a student injury.
Personnel can also be named in a negligence suit. For instance, if a teacher has a history of physical violence or abuse, and he or she is involved in a student injury, the school can be held liable for failing to provide safe supervision or thorough background checks. All personnel in the school who are responsible for supervision of students can be named in the event of an incident, from the principal and administrative staff to custodial personnel.
Frequently, personal injury suits at school can arise from faulty facilities. Injuries that occur from man-made emergencies (fires) or acts of nature can also be liable. If the school failed to provide an adequate evacuation procedure or trained staff (and drills to practice methods), it can be held liable for student injury as a result.
Other factors, including the behavior of the injured student, may be used to dispute or limit liability in a personal injury case. Risk-seeking behaviors or failure for a student to adhere to posted warnings, for example, can place equal responsibility on the injured, and the possibility of partial responsibility should be discussed while consulting with a child injury lawyer.
About Author: Angela Hill is a freelance content writer, who has years of experience in providing unique and high-quality content for the law industry. She has been writing for Cohen & Malad, LLP, based in Indiana. They have decades of experience in handling personal injury and criminal cases.