As any parent will tell you, injuries to children are often unavoidable, but when a child is hurt at school, or while under school supervision, can a school district employee (or the district itself) be held liable? In this article, we'll cover:
If your child is injured while at school or while participating in a school activity, determining who might be responsible for that injury is often difficult. Even if the school or a school employee didn't directly cause your child's injury, the school district might still be legally responsible. (Get the basics on proving fault in personal injury cases.)
For example, perhaps another student threw a rock at your child on the playground. Your first inclination might be to assume that the other student, and not the school district, is legally responsible for your child's injury. But:
Similarly, perhaps your child was injured in a school bus accident caused by the driver of another car. Even though you might bring a claim against the other driver for causing the traffic accident, the school district might share some level of legal responsibility for your child's injuries.
It depends very much on the particular circumstances of the injury, and the details of the law in the state. But parents might find themselves on the legal hook for the actions (whether negligent or intentional) of their kids in certain instances. Learn more about parental responsibility laws.
If you believe a public school district might be liable for your child's injury, it's important to understand that any claim you make will probably need to follow special procedural rules. You can't just go right to court and file a personal injury lawsuit.
School districts, like the federal government and all branches and agencies at the state, county, and municipal level of government, are entities known as "political subdivisions." In all states, political subdivisions enjoy what is called "sovereign immunity."
Generally speaking, this means that in most situations the government entity and its employees are immune from lawsuits, except under specific circumstances.
The good news is that all states have conditionally waived this immunity and will allow claims for compensation when the negligence of the school district and/or one of its employees causes or contributes to a student's injury.
The (potentially) bad news is that there are often very specific procedures you are required to follow before you can file the lawsuit in court. Failing to follow these procedures can result in an immediate dismissal of any lawsuit you try to file later on.
The laws governing lawsuits against school districts vary from state to state. But typically, before a personal injury lawsuit can be filed in court against a school district, a "Notice of Claim" or similar document must be filed with the district or appropriate state agency.
The notice of claim usually must be in writing and must:
While the time limits for getting the notice of claim filed are different in each state, you usually have a lot less time to file the notice than you would have to file a normal lawsuit. In many states, you have only 60 to 90 days after the injury to get the notice of claim filed.
Once the claim is filed, you typically must wait to file a lawsuit in court until either (1) the school district has denied the claim, or (2) a certain amount of time has passed without any action by the school district (typically three to six months).
If the claim is not filed in time, most states prohibit you from later filing any type of lawsuit in court against the school district.
Learn more about suing the government for negligence.
In California, you must give written notice of your claim to the school district within six months of the date of student's injury. The district will then accept or reject the claim. If the claim is rejected, you can file a lawsuit in the state's civil courts. Get more details on injury claims against these California school districts:
In Florida, you must put the school district or other state agency involved in the claim (and the state's Department of Financial Services) on notice, in writing, within three years of the underlying incident. No lawsuit can be filed against the district until 180 days have passed after the notice is provided (unless the claim is denied within those 180 days).
In New York, if you want to hold the public school district liable for a student's injury, you must file a Notice of Claim within 90 days of the underlying incident. Once 30 days have passed, and the claim is denied or no action is taken, you can file a lawsuit against the school district in the New York Supreme Court. Get more details on Filing a Notice of Claim against the government in New York (NYCourts.gov).
If you're considering taking legal action after your child was injured at school, it's crucial to understand your state's requirements for filing a claim, including where, how, and when you need to get the process started.
If you feel confident conducting the necessary research, drafting the "notice of claim," and following other procedural rules, it might make sense to handle your injury claim on your own. But especially since your right to injury compensation from a public school district often hinges on your ability to understand and comply with strict filing rules and deadlines, putting your injury claim in the hands of an experienced legal professional might make the most sense.
A personal injury lawyer will have the expertise to navigate your state's rules when it comes to injury claims against a school district, and will have the experience to put your best case together to ensure a fair result. Learn when you might need a personal injury lawyer and how to find the right injury attorney for you and your case. You can use the tools on this page to connect with an injury lawyer in your area.