According to the North Carolina Department of Insurance, as well as studies completed by other states, more than 14 million child injuries occur each year throughout the country. Of these injuries, more than a quarter occur in or around school property. This statistic is not surprising, given that during the school year, children spend a far greater percentage of their waking hours in school or at school-related activities than anywhere else.
If your child has been injured while either at school or during a school-related activity, it is natural as a parent to want to know who might be responsible in the eyes of the law. The possible answers to that question are varied and depend on the particular facts and circumstances of each situation.
This is the first question that must be answered in determining who is ultimately responsible for the injury.
Intentional torts might include an instance of bullying, where a child physically harms another student. However, it can also take the form of harm inflicted by an adult, such as where an adult employee of a school abuses a student.
In the instance of bullying, the parents of the offending student may be liable for the injury depending on the circumstances of the harassment. The school may also be liable for failing to stop the harassment if it had reason to know the bullying might take place.
Similarly, if an adult employee is the offender, the school district might be liable for failing to conduct a proper background check, or failing to offer appropriate training or supervision.
Many of these same issues overlap with the area of negligence. Perhaps the injury to your child was not the result of an intentional act, but rather the result of an “accident.” If so, even accidents are often caused by some failure on the part of the school or other entity.
While children are at school, the school provides for almost all of the child's needs in much the same way as parents do. Schools are obligated to provide shelter, food, transportation, and a generally safe environment. This also means that the opportunities to come up short in providing these services are numerous.
Generally speaking, if a school fails to follow accepted standards of care in providing those services to a child, and the student is injured because of that failure, then the school is said to be negligent. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)
Let's look at a few examples of how these injuries can occur, and where legal liability might lie.
A school bus accident could involve:
A playground injury could stem from:
A food poisoning incident could arise from:
A slip and fall on school premises could be caused by:
Injuries from natural or man-made disasters could occur due to:
Injuries during sports and playtime could be caused by:
If your child’s school is public, it is considered a governmental entity under state law. Because of that, there are very strict procedures that you must follow if you want to bring an injury claim or a lawsuit over the incident. Those rules are usually laid down by the state legislature. (Learn more: Can a School District Be Sued for Injuries to Students?)
If your child was injured at a private school, the organization against which you would be bringing an injury claim could be a not-for-profit organization, perhaps even a local diocese or synagogue. There aren't usually any special procedural rules for bringing a claim against this kind of organization. If you believe that a private school or one of its employees is responsible for your child's injury, you can typically proceed by filing a personal injury lawsuit in your state's civil court system.