School District Liability for Student Injuries

Nov 24, 2016

School District Liability for Student Injuries

Parents and guardians place a great amount of trust in teachers, school monitors, and bus drivers every day when they send their children off to school. In most cases, this trust is well-deserved and school employees are careful to follow safety procedures and ensure that children under their supervision are kept safe from injury. Unfortunately, accidents still can and do happen on a fairly regular basis, some of which can have far-reaching consequences for a child’s health. Treating these injuries can be prohibitively expensive, so if your child was injured while at school, it is important to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Augusta who can help you seek compensation for your losses.

Government Immunity

By suing a public school, a person is essentially suing a government entity, which means that the school will be protected from a certain degree of liability though governmental immunity. However, there is an exception in Georgia for accidents involving an injury to a child that occurred while he or she was on a bus or other school-operated vehicle. In these situations, the injured party can collect compensation from the school, but only up to the amount of the district’s insurance policy.

Personal Liability of School Employees

If a child was injured in the classroom, on the playground, or elsewhere on school grounds a teacher or school employee can only be held personally liable if the injury was the result of the employee’s negligent performance of a ministerial function. This means that if a teacher violates an actual rule, he or she can be held responsible for subsequent injuries. If there is no rule in place, however, and a teacher merely exercised his or her discretion and a child was subsequently injured, it is much more difficult to establish liability unless the action was malicious or intended to cause harm.

For example, if a school rule prohibited elementary school students from walking to the bathroom alone and a teacher still chose to send a child by him or herself and an injury subsequently occurred, that teacher could potentially be held liable because at the time of the injury he or she was exercising a ministerial act. Alternatively, a child may have sustained an injury as a result of not wearing goggles during a chemistry experiment. In this case, unless there was a school rule requiring the use of goggles, a teacher could not be held liable for his or her failure to require the student to wear safety equipment.

This analysis makes establishing whether a teacher or employee was exercising a ministerial or a discretionary function at the time of a child’s injury an important part of a negligence claim. Discretionary acts require an employee to use his or her own judgement after examining the facts, while courts have stated that for a policy to impose a ministerial duty, it must mandate simple, absolute, and definite action, while also requiring the execution of a specific task where no exercise of discretion is necessary. Still, Georgia courts agree that when school officials are monitoring, controlling, or supervising students they are performing discretionary functions. This has been found to be true even when specific school policies concerning monitoring and controlling students were violated. For example, Georgia courts have found the following actions to constitute discretionary actions, despite the fact that school policies were violated.

  • Failing to enforce a policy prohibiting students from carrying weapons at school;
  • Failing to enforce a policy governing early dismissal;
  • Failing to enforce policies prohibiting students from leaving school; and
  • Failing to enforce a policy governing student use of cars on campus.

Despite court guidance, determining whether an act was discretionary or ministerial can be difficult, so if your child sustained an injury at school and you believe that a teacher’s negligence was the cause, it is important to obtain the advice of an attorney as soon as possible.

Procedural Requirements

Because school districts are granted immunity from liability in most situations, plaintiffs attempting to sue them must follow strict procedural requirements. For example, in Georgia, plaintiffs only have one year from the date of an incident to file a suit against the county and are further required to submit an ante litem notice before proceeding with the claim. In the notice, the party bringing the suit must provide basic information about the basis of the suit.

Suing the city is even more difficult as a plaintiff only has six months from the date of the incident to provide notice of a claim. More specific information must also be included, such as details about the time, place, and extent of the injury, as well as a description of the negligent act that caused the accident.

Alternative Remedies

Governmental immunity does not protect a teacher or administrator who commits an intentional act, such as physical or sexual abuse, assault, or false imprisonment against a student, so if a parent or guardian has evidence that a school employee committed one of these acts, he or she will not be barred from filing a claim against the school.

If governmental immunity bars a suit against the school, a parent may be able to collect compensation by:

  • Suing a bully directly for assault and battery if his or her child was injured by another classmate;
  • Filing a claim against a bully’s parents if they knew of their child’s proclivity for dangerous behavior and failed to prevent it;
  • Bringing criminal charges against the bully;
  • Ensuring that school officials comply with disciplinary measures imposed by school policies; or
  • Filing an ethics complaint with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission for a teacher’s negligent supervision.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you live in Augusta and your child was recently injured while under a school employee’s supervision, please contact the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. by completing one of our standard online contact forms and a member of our legal team will help you schedule a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury lawyer in Augusta GA who can explain your legal options.