School Injuries & Legal Claims
Since children spend so much time at school or participating in school-related activities, there is a high risk that accidents involving children will happen in this context. Depending on the specific events leading up to your child’s injuries, you may be able to sue the school or the individual responsible, or both. Schools have a duty to keep children in their care safe. If they fail to meet this duty, and an accident results, the school likely will be found liable for the child’s injuries.
Common Types of Injuries at School
Many children are injured in slip and falls on school premises, in school sporting events, or on playgrounds at schools. Each of these situations may support a finding of liability. For example, if the school failed to remove ice and snow from its walkways, or if it failed to maintain a staircase in a safe condition, the parents of a child who slipped and fell likely could pursue legal action. If school coaches or teachers do not appropriately supervise children playing a sport, or if they give children improper equipment, this also may result in liability. Inadequate supervision and inadequate equipment also may arise in the context of injuries on playgrounds. In cases in which defective equipment played a role, you may have a claim against the manufacturer of the equipment in addition to or instead of the school.
Another common situation in which children can be injured is a school bus accident. This might happen when another driver collides with the bus, which would mean that the claim probably would be brought against that driver and their insurer. However, there are also situations in which a school bus driver causes a crash because they lacked proper training, got distracted behind the wheel, or otherwise acted carelessly. The school district may be indirectly liable if it employed the driver or another individual who caused the crash, or it may be directly liable for failing to properly train the driver. You also may want to investigate any defects in the bus or its components.
Food poisoning at school cafeterias poses a further risk to children. This can result when school employees do not prepare food in a sanitary way or fail to store it so that it remains fresh. In other cases, the parents of a child who suffered from food poisoning may be able to sue the provider of the food if it was responsible for providing the school with a contaminated product.
Intentional Harm at Schools
The examples above are just some common ways in which injuries can occur due to the negligence of a school or its employees. What happens if a child is hurt because someone intentionally acted to harm them? In some extreme cases, a teacher or another school employee may abuse a student. This can give rise to liability not only for the individual teacher but also sometimes for the school, based on theories of negligent hiring, negligent training, or negligent supervision. For example, the school may have failed to recognize red flags during the hiring process or failed to conduct background checks that would have revealed a risk of abuse. Or the school may have failed to respond properly to previous incidents or reports that the employee was abusive toward students.
Bullying is a common problem in schools. The circumstances will dictate whether the parents of the bullying student or the school may be liable for the bullying. A parent bringing a claim would need to show that the school should have known that the bullying was likely to happen, which can be challenging to prove.
How to Sue a School District
If your child’s school is a private school, you can sue it as you would any other private entity. By contrast, if your child attends a public school, you may need to comply with strict procedural rules that are specific to your state. These usually involve providing a Notice of Claim to the district or any other government agency that oversees the school. Taking action promptly is critical, since you may need to file the notice within 60 to 90 days of the incident.
The Notice of Claim must outline the events that resulted in your child’s injuries, describe the injuries, explain how the school’s negligence caused them, and state the amount of compensation that you are seeking. After filing this notice, you must wait for the school district to investigate. If the school district denies the claim, or if it fails to take action within the time period provided by state law, you can proceed with filing a lawsuit in court. You should review the laws that apply in your state to make sure that you comply with any additional deadlines. Some states also impose significant substantive limitations on liability.
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