Elements of Tort Law in School Liability
Posted in Legal Questions on March 29, 2017
Child injuries or deaths resulting from faulty playground equipment, inadequate supervision, unsafe premises, sports accidents, or sexual abuse may all stem from negligence. These types of accidents present opportunities for settlements or jury verdicts based on California tort laws. Tort laws involve personal injuries such as slips and falls, car accidents, and medical malpractice.
Torts can be negligent, intentional, or based on strict liability. Understanding tort laws, and when a person can sue a school district for your child’s damages, can help you protect the rights of your child and your family.
The California Tort Claims Act and Sovereign Immunity
Tort law allows one party to bring a claim against another for negligence-related injuries and property damages. These types of injuries can occur anywhere, at any time – in the car, at home, at work, the grocery store, or in school. When a party tries to bring a claim against a governmental agency, however, certain rules apply that do not exist in typical personal injury cases. Several laws affect the government’s liability in the event of injury or death, including those that occur on school grounds. The first such law is sovereign immunity.
Sovereign immunity bars individuals from filing claims against governmental agencies, including schools and school districts. In California, it is still possible to sue a school based on certain limitations and exceptions listed in the California Tort Claims Act (CTCA). The CTCA exposes a school, its employees, and its independent contractors to liability in the event of the defendant’s gross negligence or if the school has appropriate insurance. A school may also be liable for injuries if it failed to carry out a duty the law imposes on the entity, like, for example, implementing fire safety codes and evacuation regulations the law requires.
Types of Torts in School-Related Injuries
School-related injuries can take many shapes and forms and involve a variety of tort laws. Some accidents may stem from negligence, while others from intent to harm or the laws of strict liability. Negligence-related school liabilities may include:
- Inadequate supervision.
- School bus accidents.
- Children injured while crossing school crosswalks.
- Playground injuries.
- Food poisoning from school meals.
- Slips and falls on school premises.
- Exposure to hazardous materials or chemicals.
- Sports-related injuries.
- Inadequate emergency preparedness.
- Failure to evacuate children properly.
A personal injury lawyer can determine the merit of your negligence-based claim against a school and determine whether you have the right to sue based on the rules of the CTCA. Often, an entity must have exhibited gross negligence to qualify as an exception to sovereign immunity. Intentional torts that could lead to school liability include bullying and abuse. A child bullying another child is one example, but an adult employee may also abuse or inflict harm on students. If an employee commits this offense, the school district may be liable for negligent hiring, training, or retention practices.
Finally, school-related torts may take the shape of strict liability. Strict liability exists when a defendant committed a wrongful act without intent or without negligence. This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense in situations wherein the defendant should have reasonably prevented the cause of the harm. A plaintiff may hold a school responsible on the basis of strict liability if a student injury involved a dangerous or defective product, abnormally dangerous activities, or animal attacks such as dog bites. For example, a manufacturer is strictly liable for defective playground equipment that causes injury, regardless of its own negligence.
School liability is a complex area that involves many elements of tort law. If your child suffered an injury on school grounds, during a school-related activity, or while in the care of an on-duty school employee, speak to an attorney right away.