After a long, fun, and sometimes hectic summer, I always welcome the cooler, softer embrace that fall brings to Eastern Washington. When the leaves begin to change color and the sunburns from poolside days begin to fade, families across the Yakima Valley know what it means: it’s time to send the kids back to school.
There is plenty to worry about when getting your son or daughter ready for a new school year (school supplies, clothes, new sports gear), but should you have to worry about their safety as well? Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that each year in the United States, emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries, with most occurring at school and daycare centers. So, if your son or daughter is injured while at school, is there any legal recourse?
There are two types of cases commonly brought against schools and school districts for injuries sustained while a child is at school – premises liability and negligent supervision.
School districts have a custodial relationship with their students; as a result, the school district must take certain precautions to protect its students from dangers “reasonably to be anticipated.” Because of the special relationship between your children and the school, the school district has a duty to anticipate dangers which may reasonably occur, and to then take precautions to protect the student in its custody from such dangers. This means that, if the harm the has befallen your son or daughter is reasonably foreseeable, a school district may be liable if it failed to take steps to prevent the accident.
Ok, so what does that mean? For example, a meteorite strike on a school playground may not be reasonably foreseeable, and thus, a school district need not anticipate and protect its students from such a danger. However, if the school district has a broken-down piece of playground equipment that results in injury to one of its students, that is reasonably foreseeable, and therefore, it must take all reasonable precautions to protect the students from serious injury or harm, like not allowing children to use the equipment until it’s been repaired.
When your child attends school, he or she is subject to the rules and discipline of the school, and the protective custody of the teachers is substituted for that of the parent. The basic idea is that a school district has the power to control the conduct of its students while they are in school or engaged in school activities, and with that power comes the responsibility of reasonable supervision.
The duty of the school district is to exercise such care as a “reasonably prudent” person would exercise under the circumstances; in other words, the care a “reasonably careful” person would exercise under the facts.
This duty requires that the district not only protect students from physical hazards on the school grounds (as discussed above), but to also protect the student from harmful actions of fellow students, teachers, or other third persons. However, a school district will be liable only if the wrongful actions are foreseeable, which means that the school district must either know or should have known of the risk that resulted in the harm.
That’s a lot of legal jargon that basically means a school district has a duty to supervise your child and protect him or her from any harm that it can reasonably anticipate, be it from physical hazards (as discussed above), or from harmful actions of other students, teachers, or third persons which it knew or should have known about.
Getting your children back to school can be stressful enough all by itself, not to mention when your child is injured while at school. If your child is injured while at school, and you don’t know your legal rights, or wish to talk to a lawyer about what to do, contact Abeyta Nelson Injury Law for a free consultation and let us help ease the stress caused by having to deal with an at-school injury. There is never a charge to discuss a potential case with us and no fee unless we take and win the case for you.
-blog written by attorney Brett Goodman, Abeyta Nelson Injury Law