Does Sovereign Immunity Prevent a Lawsuit Against the School?

Sovereign immunity is a rule that protects governmental agencies and bodies from lawsuits. It makes them immune, meaning other parties cannot sue them. “Sovereign immunity” applies to federal and state governments, while “governmental immunity” applies to city, county, and smaller governmental bodies. Bringing a lawsuit against a school typically falls under rules of the local municipal government, which covers the school district. Despite the presence of sovereign immunity, it is possible to sue a school in certain situations.


California Tort Claims


The concept of sovereign immunity has been embedded within the United States legal system for many years, even prior to the establishment of The Constitution, as an extension of English law. Originally, there was legislation in place that protected the king against lawsuits. Centuries later, these ideas have expanded to include governmental liability within the U.S. Sovereign immunity laws have exceptions. Each state differs in its rules and exceptions through which a party may sue the state.


The CTCA, California Tort Claims Act, in the California Government Code, outlines the rules and regulations for bringing a claim against a governmental body in the state. This Act protects public entities from liability claims based on injuries the entity or any of its employees cause. The CTCA covers civil liability claims for “money or damages.” This covers a wide range of personal injuries, property damages, and other harms. In general, it prevents a party from suing for medical malpractice, premises liability accidents, motor vehicle crashes, breaches of contract, and even intentional wrongdoing.


The CTCA provides narrow circumstances in which a person can sue a school. If you or your child suffered an injury while on school grounds or during a school-related event, speak to an attorney to find out what the legal outlets may be in your particular case. California allows you to bring claims against a school if the school or an employee showed gross negligence or if the school district has a certain type of insurance.


Gross Negligence


If a school or district was grossly negligent, this may constitute an exception to sovereign immunity and allow a party to sue. Gross negligence is carelessness to the point of consciously violating another person’s safety. For example, a common type of claim against schools is negligent supervision. The CTCA may allow you to bring this type of claim if the supervisor was grossly negligent and subsequently caused harm. Under sovereign immunity rules, the courts will typically handle negligence claims against schools like premises liability claims.


Premises liability laws hold property owners responsible for injuries that occur on their properties as a result of the owner’s negligence. Property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe for visitors, and schools are no exceptions. Sovereign immunity laws in California enable individuals and parents of minors to sue a school and/or district for negligence relating to improper supervision or dangerous premises.


School Insurance


If a school has applicable insurance, it improves the odds of a party obtaining a personal injury settlement. Most states do not apply sovereign immunity laws if the municipality carries insurance. Schools with insurance have the means to pay settlements. To file a claim against a school district for a personal injury, talk to an attorney. Lawsuits against governmental agencies are complex, involving strict deadlines and intricate processes for filing.


For example, you only have six months from the date of injury to file a written notice of the claim to the agency allegedly responsible for the harm. This is significantly shorter than the typical statute of limitations for filing personal injury claims in California, which is two years from the date of injury. Don’t wait to talk to a lawyer about your claim against a school.