Kids spend a lot of time at school or participating in school-related activities. If your child is injured at school or during a school activity, who is responsible? You may be able to recover the cost of your child’s medical damages and possibly other damages from the public school district, school board, or other government entity, but there are strict procedures and deadlines you must comply with. Before you take any action, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to evaluate your situation.
What Kind of Personal Injuries Has Your Child Suffered?
Schools are responsible for taking reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of your children. This involves both care and maintenance of the school facilities and grounds as well as proper supervision of students. This is called their “duty of care.” Just like any other personal injury lawsuit, to prove that a school was negligent (i.e., legally responsible for your damages), you will need to prove that 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.
Premises Liability Claims
If a student suffers a trip-and-fall or slip-and-fall injury on school property, it may possible to recover damages from the school district. The school's duties, for the purposes of determining whether it might be subject to a premises liability claim, are similar to those of a commercial property owner:
- To remove potential hazards from the property within a certain period of time,
- To maintain the property in good repair and condition, and
- To take safety measures or enact warnings regarding hazards to ensure that the premises are safe for lawful users.
If the school's negligent maintenance of its property was the cause of your child's injuries, you may have the basis for a claim.
Other injuries are the result of assaults by fellow students. A school may be liable for damages if it did not take appropriate measures to supervise and prevent a violent attack by one or more students on another. This is especially true if the school knew of prior incidents involving the student or students and failed to impose appropriate discipline or take precautions to prevent additional incidences.
Recreation and Sports Injuries
The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh reports that 3.5 million students are injured annually across the United States while participating in school sports and recreational activities. These activities come with some inherent risks, so proving a claim against the school for failure to supervise requires overcoming the assumption that they have willingly accepted that risk by voluntarily participating in the activity. However, a school may be liable if the acts or omissions of its representatives result in an increased risk that is beyond that expected in connection with the activity.
One way a school can breach its duty is by failing to prevent foreseeable injuries. The following are examples of situations that may give rise to claims:
- A child trips and falls on poorly maintained playground equipment;
- A child is injured when punched by a student with a history of violence;
- A child is sickened by dehydration from practicing too long in unreasonable heat.
The facts of your particular case will determine whether or not the school was negligent by failing to exercise due care. You also need to prove that the school’s failure was the cause of your child’s injuries; other intervening, unforeseeable events that contributed to your child’s injury can make it difficult to meet this burden.
Limits on Lawsuits Against Public Schools
Lawsuits against public schools are especially difficult, and there are often strict time limitations on when the action must be brought as well as caps on the amount that can be awarded. There are state rules that limit when and how government entities, including schools, can be sued. This is called “governmental immunity.” You should consult with a personal injury attorney with experience negotiating and litigating claims against government entities. If you have a basis to pursue a claim against the school, there are strict statutes of limitations with which you must comply in order to protect your rights.
You may also be able to present your claim to the insurance carrier for the school. If you do, it’s important to have an attorney represent you and review any proposed settlement agreement prepared by an insurance company. This will make sure that you do not accidentally waive any of your child’s rights or remedies and allow you to make a decision whether to pursue a lawsuit for negligence against the school.
If your child has been injured at school in New Jersey, the experienced personal injury attorneys at the Mark Law Firm can help. Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our lawyers in Newark, Oradell, Jersey City, Paterson, Union, or Basking Ridge. Contact us today to make an appointment to talk to an attorney about your New Jersey personal injury case to discuss whether you may be able to bring a claim for your child’s personal injuries.