Originally published August 30, 2021. Updated April 17, 2023.
Schools have a legal responsibility to provide “reasonable care” for their students, which means they must do everything reasonably possible to keep students safe while they are in their custody. When accidents happen at school or during school-sponsored events, parents may wonder if the school can be held liable for their child’s injuries.
Schools can be held accountable if they are negligent in providing reasonable care for the student. In these cases, parents can pursue legal action against the school to gain compensation for the damage done to their child. However, proving school negligence in New York is complex; therefore, it is helpful to examine the circumstances surrounding when schools are liable for student injuries and how to determine liability.
Types of Student Accidents
Here are a few of the most common types of student accidents that can occur during school hours or under school supervision:
- These commonly occur in gymnasiums and cafeterias because of spills and leaks. But poorly maintained safety railings, unstable bleachers, and other broken equipment can cause falls at school
- Playground equipment that is poorly maintained, defectively designed or installed, or in any way unsuitable for climbing and other outdoor activities can result in injuries. Playgrounds are also where children may be harassed or bullied, leading to intentional physical harm.
- These injuries can happen during practice and games (both home and away). They may be the fault of negligent care on the part of the coach or even an equipment manufacturer (such as a football helmet that doesn’t work as it should).
A few other possible scenarios where schools may be liable for a student’s injuries are bus crashes during school trips (such as field trips), food poisoning from food served by the school, or a school shooting.
Proving School Liability
Student accidents occur every day, but proving the school is liable for your child’s injuries is a difficult task. There are several elements of New York personal injury law that affect school liability cases.
When you need to prove your child’s school’s liability, personal injury laws require evidence of:
- Inadequate supervision
- Ignoring a known danger
- Inadequate or improper training of teachers and staff
- Defective or improperly maintained equipment
- Tainted or improperly handled food
- Negligence or failure to act or provide care
Private vs. Public Schools
Whether the school is private or public also plays a part in the legal options when filing a personal injury suit on behalf of a student. If your student is injured due to the negligence of a private school, you can pursue legal recourse through a personal injury civil suit, just as you would against a person who caused a personal injury.
Public schools are considered government entities, and to file a personal injury claim against a government body, strict procedures must be followed. This is a practice area known as tort law.
A Notice of Claim has to be filed with the court within 90 days of the accident, and a 30-day waiting period must be given for the school to investigate the claim. Tort law is notoriously complex when pertaining to school negligence and an experienced premises liability lawyer is your best option for getting your case heard and receiving compensation.
Time and Location of the Accident
The time and location at which the accident occurs affect the school’s liability in a case. Accidents that occur during school hours or school supervised field trips, sports, or activities fall under the school’s responsibility.
If a student is hurt in a bus accident on a field trip, the school can also be held liable. However, if the accident occurs outside school hours, the institution cannot be held responsible. An example would be if a student played on the school playground on the weekend and suffered a broken arm from falling off the slide.
Foreseeability of the Accident
One of the most deciding factors in school liability cases is whether the accident was foreseeable. As the plaintiff, you need to prove that the school did not protect your child from foreseeable harm. This is quite difficult to prove. For example, imagine a student spills a drink in the cafeteria. The spill causes another student to slip and fall. The question is whether the staff should have noticed the spill and then failed to clean it up, or whether the accident was spontaneous.
In this case, it would be smart to work with a slip and fall attorney to determine whether the school acted reasonably and whether the accident was foreseeable and preventable. Many accidents and injuries occur due to this type of spontaneous, unforeseeable circumstance. New York has routinely held that schools are not liable in such situations.
Let Catalano Law Fight for Your Child
When your child is injured due to a school’s negligence, it is vitally important to reach out to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. The team at Catalano Law is compassionate and knowledgeable in going up against both public and private schools to win fair compensation for your child’s emotional and physical injuries due to their accident.
Call Catalano Law today for a free consultation to determine your legal options and get justice for your child.