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Injured at School Do You Sue the School?

Tags: school

A group of kids playing during recess at school playgroundInjuries at School are not uncommon.  Most occur while students are engaged in interscholastic sports and may involve sprains, concussions, knee injuries and the occasional broken bone. Contact sports such as football and wrestling or that involve a lot of running and jumping like soccer, tennis and basketball lend themselves to certain injuries.   there are other injuries that occur on school grounds or that involve school equipment such school bus accidents, gym class mishaps or even assaults during regular school hours or an after-school event.  In any of these cases, can the injured party or family sue the school for compensation?

Issue of Liability Waivers

High School athletes and their families typically sign waivers of liability so that the school can present a signed waiver as a defense against a lawsuit.  Events such as proms or other extracurricular activities may also require participants to sign similar waivers.  Their validity is based on its language and on the negligent or even reckless conduct by a school official, teacher or employee that was the substantial cause of the accident.

Massachusetts law generally recognizes the validity of a liability waiver.  This would protect the school and district in most cases but only for common negligence.  Negligence means that a party, such as the school, which has a duty of care toward the student, breached that duty when it failed to exercise ordinary care in protecting the child from injury.  However, it may not excuse a coach or teacher from personal liability for negligent conduct if they were not included in the waiver.  It also does not insulate anyone from gross negligence or conduct that exhibits willful indifference toward the rights or safety of the student.

For instance, if a football or soccer coach puts players through exhausting and sustained workouts in 100 degree weather without allowing players proper hydration that leads to a death, this could constitute gross negligence.  If the school was aware of the practice from previous complaints and did nothing to change it, then the school might be held liable. Allowing athletes or gym students to knowingly use old or defective equipment may be another example.

Are There Other Parties Responsible?

In the case of defective equipment, the parent may also be able to bring a product liability action against the manufacturer or designer.  This could extend to playground equipment on the school grounds that are found to be defective but you would probably not be able to sue the school because of the waiver.  If a school vendor was responsible, or partially responsible for the injury, that person or company could be held responsible.

Should a coach or teacher be found to have sexually assaulted or otherwise engaged in sexual conduct towards an underage student, then the school might be held responsible if officials covered up the act or allowed the coach or teacher to continue on the job despite knowledge of the behavior and the individual committed criminal behavior towards other students.  In these cases, the school could be found grossly negligent and not immune from liability regardless of a signed waiver.

Although signing a waiver of liability can present obstacles to compensation to a student injured on school property or by the negligence of school officials, it is not necessarily a total bar.  Your school injury lawyer should be able to examine the waiver’s language and determine what legal action may be taken.

Bus Accidents

School buses, other than those that bus special needs students, rarely have seat belts and those in Massachusetts are not mandated to have them although lawmakers are seeking to change this.  Schools will also have liability waivers in most cases for students who use the bus for transportation but not if the bus driver engaged in reckless behavior such as driving intoxicated. For other negligent conduct, though, such as making an unsafe lane change or an unlawful turn, a liability waiver would probably be a successful defense against an injury claim.

You can still bring a claim against a third party that contributed to the accident such as another motorist or, if the bus had defective steering or braking, pursue a claim against the bus manufacturer.

Damages in a School Negligence Claim

If you are able to convince a court that the school or its representatives were grossly negligent, then you may be able to have a sustainable claim.  As indicated, you can still sue school employees personally for negligent conduct if they were not included in the liability waiver. Damages may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Lost earnings if student was forced to graduate at a later date and was delayed entry into college or the job market or was unable to continue an after-school job
  • Lost earning capacity based on permanent disability and probable future employment opportunities based on aptitude and other factors
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Psychological trauma

Even if the school or its representative or employee was found to be grossly negligent, Massachusetts law only allows punitive or exemplary damages in wrongful death claims.

Consult Attorney Tim Houten

If you or a loved one was injured on school property or by a teacher, coach or other employee’s negligence, consult injury lawyer Tim Houten of Middleton. These cases can be complicated and present particular obstacles.  Accordingly, you need to be aware of your legal rights and the law that governs your claim.  Tim Houten has been representing the interests of injured victims in Middleton and the surrounding communities for 35 years. Contact his office today for a free, in-depth analysis of your injury claim.



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Injured at School Do You Sue the School?


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