How to Sue a School in Philadelphia for Injuries
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 16, 2017
If your child is injured at school or during a school activity in Philadelphia, you may be able to recover financial damages from the school district to pay for your child's medical bills and other costs.
If your child goes to public school, do you know how to sue the School District of Philadelphia? What about private schools? Before you take any action after a child's injury at school, know that pursuing a lawsuit against a school can be complicated and require careful attention to legal deadlines and procedures. You may first wish to consult with a qualified Philadelphia education lawyer. Nevertheless, before you consider suing a school in Pennsylvania, there are a few things you should consider.
What causes of action are available to me?
There are several legal grounds you can use to file a lawsuit against a school district in Philly. A negligence lawsuit is typically the most common cause of action a parent can use if their child is physically injured at school. However, other harms could give rise to a lawsuit suit, such as:
- Bullying or acts of violence on schools grounds or during a school activity;
- Discrimination against a student on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, and other categories protected by law;
- Excessive punishment of a student;
- Sexual Misconduct committed by someone employed by the school district; and
- Inadequate supervision of a student.
School liability issues: how do I prove negligence?
In a basic negligence case, you'll need to show the school owed a duty of care to your child, that it breached the duty of care, and that this breach was the actual and proximate cause of your child's injuries. The courts will look to several factors to determine if you have met your burden of proof.
First, how did the injury occur? Was the injury caused by inadequate supervision of your child by school employees? If a teacher was negligent in the supervision of your child, then the school may be liable for the teacher's actions during the course and scope of their employment. If a teacher was doing something outside the course and scope of their employment, the school may be able to claim that it was not liable.
Next, your focus should be on the nature of the injury and whether or not it was foreseeable and therefore something a reasonable school should have prevented.
What is a foreseeable injury?
Basically, this means that the school could have taken precautions to prevent the harm to your child, but didn't. A few examples include your child tripping over an object, falling from playground equipment, being injured by bullying or negligent acts by fellow students, or being subject to unsanitary conditions.
The facts of your particular case and your child's injury will determine whether or not the school was negligent by failing to exercise due care.
Can I file suit against my public school, and what is governmental immunity?
Your school's status as either "public" or "private" can affect what legal grounds you'll have available to file a lawsuit.
Every state has established rules that dictate when and how government entities like schools can be sued. Public schools are protected by "governmental immunity."
This means that public schools generally can't be sued unless special circumstances exist. Those specific circumstances are laid out in a Pennsylvania law known as "The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act." Take a look for yourself. OK, confused yet? Not to worry. Essentially, the law says that if the school or one of its employees was negligent and acting within the scope of his or her official duties, then you might be able to sue. However, the injury has to stem from one of the following exceptions:
- Vehicle liability (perhaps school buses);
- Care, custody, or control of personal property;
- Care, custody, or control of real property (for example, school grounds or facilities);
- Trees, traffic controls, and street lighting;
- Utility services facilities;
- Streets and sidewalks;
- Care, custody and control of animals.
Take note: these exceptions won't apply if the act was willful, intentional, or criminal.
Are you out of luck then? No, this doesn't necessarily mean you can't take legal action on behalf of your child. However, it means it is a lot harder to do so. Only certain types of claims, such as some motor vehicle accidents and certain types of accidents on school property, may be actionable against the School District under the Act.
Is there a time limit to sue my public school?
Yes, and a very short one. In Pennsylvania you have to notify the school district of an injury within six months of the injury for you to be allowed to pursue a claim.
What types of damages can I recover from my public school?
Pennsylvania law also limits the type and amount of damages that can be awarded in tort actions against the government. For example, damages only can be awarded for pain and suffering in cases of death, permanent loss of bodily function, permanent disfigurement and/or permanent dismemberment when the plaintiff's medical expenses are greater than $1,500.
Also, even if you can prove liability against a school, the school is only on the hook for $500,000 in damages total for any one incident. The school district also receives credit for any insurance payments already made to you on behalf of your child.
If your child attends a private school, your options can include a suit for negligence or simply filing a claim on the school's insurance policy. The government immunity laws do not protect private schools unless it receives federal funding.
Before you sue a school district, you may wish to contact an attorney who specializes in personal injury or government law to see if governmental immunity laws apply to your school district. If the governmental immunity statutes do apply to school districts, you will then want to find out if any exceptions apply. An attorney specializing in education or personal injury law may be able to provide helpful guidance.
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