Each year in the United States, over 3 million children are injured on school property. A school is responsible for providing their students with a reasonable duty of care. The duty of care is an obligation of school employees to protect the children from foreseeable harm. Employees of both public and private schools are responsible for maintaining safe playground equipment, sanitary cafeterias, safe floor conditions, clean classrooms and buildings, etc. Schools are also required to provide children with supervision when children are playing in groups as well as employing qualified and responsible employees who will provide proper care to the children. Any deviation from this duty of care that results in an injury on school grounds can result in the school being held liable for negligence. Since the school is responsible for maintaining a safe property, negligence to do so could result in a premises liability claim.
The rules for filing a premises liability claim at a public and private school differ. If your child was injured at a private school, you would sue the school directly because it is privately owned. If your child was injured at a public school, the school district would typically be held liable because public schools are local government agencies. A case against a government agency is a more complicated one than a traditional premises liability case because there are specific rules to follow. Some of these rules include a shorter statute of limitations, a written claim to the government agency and a cap of financial damages paid to the victim.
Steps to File a Claim
Public schools belong to school districts which are run and funded by local governments. This is why the rules for suing a public school, or government agency, are more specific. In the past, government agencies were immune to lawsuits under a rule called ‘Sovereign Immunity’. However, if the specific circumstance occurred because of a school employee’s negligence and resulted in an injury to a student, a case can be pursued against the school district.
If your child is injured on public school property, you must abide by the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act if you want to pursue a case against a government entity. The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act allows a person to sue the local government for a few limited situations including premises liability if an employee of the government was acting negligent. The government’s financial liability is limited to $250,000 to compensate an individual for their claim in Pennsylvania.
When bringing a premises liability case against a local government entity, you must first file a written claim to the school district which will allow them to accept or deny the case before a lawsuit is filed. This claim must include all contact information of the victim, exact details of the accident and contact information for the victim’s medical professional. This written claim must be sent within six months from the incident. The government agency will have six months to either respond and deny your request or pay you some or all of the damages. If you do not hear back after six months, you have the right to continue with filing your lawsuit.
In a premises liability case, you must prove three elements: the person who is being sued is the owner of the property, whoever was injured had reason to be on the property and there must have been negligence on behalf of the person being sued.
In order to succeed in a premises liability case, you must prove your child endured an injury because an employee of the school failed to provide adequate care to their students. You must prove that the school knew or should have known about a dangerous situation and failed to solve the issue. For example, if there was faulty playground equipment and the school employees knew of this but failed to get the playground fixed and someone was hurt, that would be an example of negligence. The goal is to prevent any foreseeable injuries to students. This means that school employees must take safety precautions to ensure their students are safe while on campus and avoid anything that could cause harm. There are however a few exceptions of injuries on school property where the school or school district generally cannot be held liable.
First, if your child was injured after school hours or outside of school-sponsored gatherings where there was no school supervision required, you likely will not be able to build a premises liability case. Also, if your child is injured while on a sports team, you are unable to sue the school for negligence. Whenever you sign your child up for an organized sport at school, you sign a waiver that will not allow you to hold the school liable for injuries. There is also an assumed level of risk when playing a sport at school.
Slip and fall injuries at school can result in minor bumps or even broken bones. If you believe your child was injured because the school was negligent in preventing foreseeable harm, consider speaking with an attorney to discuss your case. If you are able to prove the three elements of premises liability and follow the rules of suing a government agency, you can build a successful case.