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What Can I Do if My Child Was Hit at School?

Everyone wants schools that are safe for their children. Schools have a legal duty to meet this expectation. But parents may wonder, “What happens if a student assaults my child on school grounds?”

No parent likes hearing that a peer has hit their child. What can you do if another student injures your child at their school? What about other types of school injuries? For example, what if a school bus driver causes a car accident that harms kids on their way to class?

Parents may be able to pursue injury claims against the school district if its employees were negligent. It is also possible that the perpetrator or their parents could be liable for a child's injuries.

Determining Liability After a School Incident

Whether your child's school is liable for the injury usually depends on the legal concept of negligence. The legal elements of negligence are:

  • Duty: A school, its employees, and a school bully have legal duties to behave reasonably to prevent foreseeable harm to schoolchildren.
  • Breach: The above parties may breach their duty of care by committing an act (or omission) that results in your child's injuries. For example, the school may turn a blind eye to a fight that has broken out, or a rowdy child might be violent toward other kids.
  • Causation: The act or omission of a school, teacher, staff member, or bully may cause harm to your child.
  • Damages: Scrapes and bruises are examples of damages suffered by your child. Your child may incur hefty treatment expenses if the damages are significant.

Schools have a duty of care to protect students from accidents and injuries that are reasonably foreseeable. This is true when children are in school, on a playground at the school, or on a school bus.

Under this duty of care, schools must provide reasonable supervision. It must be enough to keep students safe from bullying and assaults by their peers. When a school administrator or employee fails to act responsibly in maintaining this level of supervision, it may rise to negligence.

Similarly, those responsible for the safe transportation of children have a duty to prevent school bus accidents. The duty of care is to provide reasonable supervision on the school bus. This includes ensuring that the driver operates the vehicle safely.

When a Bully's Intentional Acts Cause Injuries

Not every act of bullying, injury, or violence at school is due to negligent supervision. Sometimes, school officials don't have enough advanced warning that a child is in danger. In such a case, they do not have time to act. For example, playground equipment may have passed safety and accessibility inspections, and no dangerous conditions may exist on the premises.

The school may have done everything possible to prevent fall accidents, including installing safety handrails. A child may have been behaving too suddenly and recklessly to give time for a supervisor to intervene. A child may slip and fall because of their own carelessness, resulting in a playground injury that may not have been reasonably preventable.

But sometimes, the lack of advanced warning is harder to justify. For instance, suppose a bully who had acted aggressively in the past injures a student. The school might have been negligent if the incident happened when the students were unsupervised. They may have failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the bully's pattern of intentional aggression.

On the other hand, what if a peer who had not exhibited a history of behavioral problems injured a student? Additionally, suppose the area of aggression was supervised at the time of the assault. Here, the school might not have been negligent. In such a case, if the school can demonstrate that the supervisors could not intervene, the school might not be held liable for negligence. The bully who caused the aggression may have liability for their intentional acts.

Is the Child or Their Parent Liable?

As a child, the perpetrator may not be held liable if the harm caused is not significant. Suppose your child's injuries aren't serious. The bully might get suspended or expelled, but no civil or criminal court will punish them for a few scrapes.

However, if a bully close to adulthood knowingly committed a crime, they might be treated differently. Courts rarely hold young minors liable for their actions. Given courts tend not to hold young minors liable, the perpetrator's parent(s) or guardian(s) may be held legally responsible for their child's actions.

Parental responsibility includes civil liability for their child's intentional acts of bullying. If a bully has committed severe civil assault and battery against your child, they may suffer serious injuries. For example, what if your child suffered broken bones and life-threatening injuries after being punched by their classmate? The bully's parents might have civil liability. In some cases, the bully might be sent to juvenile detention.

Public vs. Private Schools

Generally speaking, the law recognizes public schools and public school employees as government employees. As such, they are immune from lawsuits. However, courts will make an exception and suspend this immunity from time to time.

Whether a court makes such an exception depends on the severity of the school's or school employee's offense. For example, gross negligence may be cause for an exception to a public school's immunity. This varies from state to state. It is important to consult local laws to determine whether your child's public school may be subject to such an exception.

Private schools, by contrast, are treated like any other liable private entity and aren't subject to this disclaimer. This means a private school can be held responsible for negligence and other offenses far more often than public schools. The claim will usually be settled with the school's insurance provider. Litigation (suing in court) is also an option.

Personal Injury Claims Against Government Entities

If school injuries occur at a public school or other government-operated educational institution, beware. You will have to follow specific rules before filing a personal injury lawsuit. As stated in the previous paragraphs, this is because personal injury cases concerning a public school's negligence may be subject to sovereign immunity.

States have different laws on whether government entities and their employees may be sued. In other words, sovereign immunity protects public institutions and government authorities from liability while they act within the scope of their respective government agencies.

When it comes to personal injuries or torts, you generally can pursue legal action against a school for gross negligence. But to further overcome sovereign immunity protections, you must file a "Notice of Claim" with your local government before bringing any complaint in court.

Each locality (jurisdiction) has different rules about how quickly you must file this notice. Moreover, states have different laws on how much time you have to file your personal injury lawsuit. These time limits, or statute of limitations laws, can bar your claim if it is improperly or untimely filed.

Recoverable Injury Damages

If a school is found liable for your child's injuries, you may be able to recover compensatory damages against the school or the parents of a minor who attacked your child. Compensatory damages include:

  • Money damages to cover outstanding medical bills and future needed medical treatments
  • Money for pain and suffering, such as temporary disabilities or psychological trauma suffered by your child

If a school's negligence is so egregious and inexcusable that they should have known harm would result, a court might also award punitive damages. These damages are awarded more rarely and are designed to punish and deter reckless behavior.

Resources for Parents and Guardians

Cases involving injuries to children are complicated. This is why consulting with a personal injury lawyer is important if your child has been injured at school. Keep in mind that state laws can be different from one state to another, so you'll need to get legal advice specific to where an accident occurred. An injury in New York might be interpreted under different legal rules compared to California, and so on. Make sure you dial the phone number of a local attorney who knows the laws of the school's state.

If a child is injured, it is natural for their guardian to be protective and want to take action. But, taking advantage of legal options can be difficult without the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. If individuals want to take legal action on behalf of their injured child, an attorney can be a resource for getting the justice the child deserves.

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