Parents send their children off to school each morning thinking they’ll be safe with faculty and staff. But even at the most diligent and safety-conscientious schools, accidents can and do happen. Those accidents, can result in serious injuries.
Each year, about 3.5 million children are injured while on school property or during school outings. About 10% of school-related accidents cause serious injuries that require medical care. The majority (about 70%) of those accidents occur during physical education class or recess, and about 40% are due to inadequate supervision.
Costly medical bills can put a financial strain on parents, and the emotional stress of the accident impacts the entire family. So, who is held liable for school injuries? Do parents have recourse if their children are injured while in the school’s care?
Several things need to be considered when a child is injured at school, such as when the injury occurred, whether the school knew of the hazard, and whether the school failed in its duty to keep children safe.
Schools have a legal responsibility to keep children safe. They must maintain an environment free of hazards and must provide proper supervision at all times.
If the school fails in its duty of care and a student is injured, the school can be held liable.
Knowledge of the Hazard
It can be challenging to determine whether a school is liable for student injuries. One key thing to look at is whether the school knew or should have known about the hazard.
If a child is injured while playing on a broken piece of playground equipment, the school may be held liable for the injury. On the other hand, if a student spills a drink in the cafeteria and another student slips and falls, the school may not be responsible. There may not have been enough time for the school to know about and remove the hazard.
A school may be held liable if injuries were the result of:
- Defective playground equipment
- Lack of adequate supervision
- Improper food preparation or storage
- Failure to remove ice or snow from sidewalks
- Improperly maintained handrails
Where and When the Injury Occurred
Another factor that must be considered is whether the student was supposed to be on the property when the injury occurred. If a student is using the facility or breaks into the facility after-hours and is injured, the school would likely not be held liable.
Parties that Caused the Injury
Any person who may have caused the injury must also be considered. If an employee is ultimately the cause of the accident, the school would be held liable. But if another student caused the injury, with bullying being an exception, the student’s parents would be held liable.
In the case of bullying, the parents of the offending child may be held liable for injuries, depending on the circumstances of the bullying. But the school could also be held liable for failing to stop the harassment if it knew that the bullying could take place.