When we send our children to school for the day, it is with the expectation that they’ll be safe from harm. However, injuries at school are all too common.
According to statistics cited by Safe Kids Worldwide, “An estimated 2.2 million children ages 14 and under sustain school-related injuries each year. Annually, one in 14 students suffers a medically attended or temporarily disabling injury at school.”
There are many causes of these injuries, but the two most common ones cited are “falls (43 percent) and sports activities (34 percent).” Thankfully, the majority of these child injuries are minor.
However, when these school injuries are more severe, it’s only natural to want to know who’s responsible and who’s going to pay the medical bill. That being said, determining liability for injuries that happen at school can be very difficult, and pursuing a case against the school harder still.
Determining Liability for Your Child’s School Injuries
Schools have a responsibility to provide a safe learning environment to children. As such, they are expected to provide reasonable protection measures against injury, remove significant injury risks, and supervise students in place of their parents at school.
It is often automatically assumed that the school holds liability for any student injuries that occur on school grounds during school hours or when the school is hosting a special event.
However, this isn’t always the case. The liability for your child’s school injury can be influenced by numerous factors, including:
- Where the Injury Occurred. If your child is injured off school grounds, such as at the bus stop, then the school may not be held accountable. On school grounds or in a school transport, the school usually has liability.
- When the Injury Occurred. If your child's injury occurs on school grounds when school is “out” (no classes or events are being held), then the school usually isn’t considered liable. So, if Susie pushes Jared off the monkey bars on a Sunday when no one’s around, the school isn’t liable for Jared’s injures.
- Who Caused the Injury. Schools do have to take appropriate measures to keep students from harming each other. If there is an injury caused by a bully, the school may be held liable for not providing enough supervision. Also, if the school hires a teacher with a history of violence/abusive behavior, the school may be held liable for any abuse they commit.
- Was the Injury Sports Related? Injuries arising from participation in sports are often expected, which is why most schools have parents fill out a waiver. Unless the injury arises from gross negligence in student supervision or equipment maintenance, such injuries are considered a normal risk that was assumed by the student and parent.
- Was the Injury Risk Preventable? Injuries that occur because of a lack of maintenance or other negligent action by the school are often considered the school’s liability. This includes (but isn’t limited to):
- Broken Safety Railings
- Food Poisoning from Bad/Undercooked Food
- Lack of Supervision for Recess and Other Activities
Reasons Why Suing a School Can Be Difficult
Public schools operated by the State of Florida and their officials are protected from direct lawsuits by sovereign immunity. The good news is that there are some exceptions to Florida’s sovereign immunity because of Florida Statute 768.28. This law waives Florida’s sovereign immunity in certain cases—but with some limitations.
These limitations to the sovereign immunity waiver can make it exceedingly difficult to pursue a case against your child’s school district.
First, you have to file a claim with the State of Florida within 6 months of the incident, with an exact dollar amount for the claim (not to exceed $200,000). Then, if the claim is rejected or the amount of payment offered in compensation is less than what was demanded, you can file a lawsuit with the State’s Finance Department.
Basically, you have to try to get the State to agree to let you bill them for the cost of your child’s injuries. Only after an initial rejection of your claim can you move forward with a lawsuit/appeal.
The time limit for filing a claim can be especially troublesome, as some injuries may take more than 6 months for your child to fully recover or finish their treatment regimen. This means you may not have all of the medical billing records you need to establish the full extent your claim.
So, if your child has been injured at school and you’re considering legal action, I personally urge you to seek legal advice as soon as possible. There are a lot of protections that make conducting a liability case against your child’s school district difficult. You shouldn’t have to take them on alone.