As a parent, there is little more frightening than receiving “that” phone call; the one from your child’s principal telling you he has been injured at school. Most parents trust their children’s teachers and school authorities to protect their child during the day, but they are not infallible. Accidents happen, and teenagers may be difficult to control. So who is liable if your child has been injured while at school?
The Doctrine of In Loco Parentis
School officials, including teachers, guidance counselors, and bus drivers, are bound by an old legal doctrine called “in loco parentis.”1 This term is Latin for “in the place of the parents,” and it holds that educators must assume the same responsibilities as a parent for the children in their care, as the children (who are legally required to attend school) are generally deprived of the protection of their parents during school hours. Under Florida law,2 a “caregiver” is defined as “a parent, adult household member, or another person responsible for a child’s welfare.” Florida courts have held that during school hours teachers qualify as “caregivers” under Florida’s statutes, and as such, are not permitted to stand by while a child is being injured or abused in their presence. They must react. If they do not, they can be guilty of negligence or even child abuse.
Waiver of School District Immunity and Exceptions
Under the traditional law, the state, i.e, Florida, its agencies, i.e, school districts, and employees of those agencies, i.e., the teachers, were immune from liability for unintentional actions such as negligence. This meant that if you were injured on school property due to the negligence of a teacher, you had no legal recourse. Florida, however, has altered this old doctrine by law, and it has waived immunity3 such that the state and its agencies are liable for negligence in the same manner as a private person would be. However, you are not permitted to obtain punitive damages, i.e, damages not indented to compensation you for your injuries, from the state. Your recovery is also limited to $200,000 in most circumstances.
Accidental Injuries at School
As many students engage in physical education or recreational activities after school, accidental injuries are bound to occur. Although students and their parents assume the risk of engaging in basic sports, such a suffering a sprained ankle during a soccer match, the school is still responsible for ensuring the safety of its premises and equipment. If, for example, the school had recently done work on its sprinkler system and there was a poorly filled hole on the soccer field, if your daughter tripped in the depression while playing soccer, the school may be liable for the negligence of its maintenance employees.
Liability for Accidental Injuries
If your son or daughter is accidentally injured while on school property (and during approved school hours), then the following parties may be held liable for an accident:
- Teachers and teacher’s aids;
- Maintenance professionals;
- Bus drivers;
- Guidance counselors;
- The principal and other administrators;
- The school board, and/or
- The school district itself.
Under the legal theory of “respondeat superior,” which literally translates to “let the master answer,” school administrators and the school board can be held liable for the negligence of their employees. For example, if a bus driver is involved in an accident that injures your child, the school is responsible for his negligence, and it is also potentially responsible for a tort called “negligent hiring” if it can be shown that the driver should not have been hired to that position. In the same vein, if a guidance counselor fails to take action when a student indicates that she wishes to harm herself, and the student subsequently does so, the school may also be liable for the counselor’s professional failures.
Liability for Student Caused Injuries
Whether a school can be held liable for injuries caused by another student’s intentional actions is dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case. If your son or daughter is being bullied and suffers injuries as a result, the school may be liable for not instituting anti-bullying policies or providing sufficient supervision. Even if your child is being bullied online, such a through the use of the school’s computer systems, the school may also be liable. Further, if the school was on notice that certain pupils had a history of violence and did not take precautionary measures, it may also be liable for your child’s injuries. This is why many schools have a “zero tolerance” policy for on-campus violence.
However, situations do arise in which the school may not be held liable for another student’s intentional acts. For example, if two students begin to fight on the football field and one is injured before the coach can stop the fight, the school may not have been negligent in this matter, especially if the other student had no history of violence and the school had taken all precautionary measures to ensure the students were supervised at the time. Nonetheless, the student himself and/or his parents will still be liable for your child’s injuries. Just by virtue of being on school grounds does not mean that a student who caused your child’s injuries is not also liable for them.
Call an Experienced New Port Richey Personal Injury Attorney Today
Your child spends most of his or her day at school, and the environment is extremely important to their development as an adult. School officials are aware of their responsibility as someone who sits in your place as a parent, and it is important to hold them to this standard both for your children and future generations. If your son or daughter was injured while under the care and control of their New Port Richey teachers, school officials, or bus drivers, contact the Dolman Law Group today. We specialize in representing children who have suffered injuries while at school, and we have experience undertaking the complex liability analysis necessary to determine how to best ensure you are fully compensated. Contact us for a free, no-risk consultation today at (727) 853-6275.
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652