Are Schools Immune to Premises Liability and Other Lawsuits?

Sometimes schools are immune to lawsuits due to sovereign immunity, but not always. Suing a school can be complicated, but it is important to know your rights. Contact a Florida personal injury attorney to find out if your situation entitles you to take action.

With summer coming to a close in a few weeks, and schools coming back into session, there are things that people need to know about schools and being able to sue them if the need arises. Just like most other legal issues, suing a school can be complicated. There is one thing that stands in the way when it comes to suing a school – sovereign immunity.

Public schools are required to keep our children safe, which includes protecting them from breaches of privacy and bullying. This, however, is not always an easy task, as most teachers and
school administrators will attest. If a school or teacher has been negligent in his or her duty to protect your child, and the child is injured as a result of that negligence, you may be entitled to take action.

What is Premises Liability?

Premises liability regarding schools means that the school is responsible for maintaining the grounds so that accidents and injuries do not occur. When an injury occurs on school grounds, it must be proven that the injury was foreseeable. Did the school know of a specific danger and fail to take measures to prevent accidents and injuries? Did the school know that a notorious bully was threatening students and teachers failed to supervise the aggressive student? The school has a duty to protect students from foreseeable harm while the students are on school grounds.

Exceptions to School Liability

Some exceptions apply when it comes to a school’s liability for student injuries. As a general rule, schools will not be held liable for injuries that happen on school property outside of school hours or outside of school sponsored events.

Another exception involves injuries that occur during organized sports. For example, if a student sprains an ankle while playing basketball, the parents of the student can not sue to the school because the student has assumed the normal risks of an athlete involved in sports activities.

When can a School be Held Responsible?

Even with the above exceptions, there are times when a school can be held liable for injuries that a student suffers. These can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • When we think about injuries we often think of physical injuries, but adults and children can also be injured emotionally. One of the most dangerous places for a child to be psychologically is school. Children can be mean, and there is a fine line between harmless words and bullying. If the bullying or cyberbullying has taken the form of verbal or physical behavior that harasses or scrutinizes a student based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion; if the bully is spreading rumors that are not true and are meant to harm another student; physically harming or threatening to physically harm a student; or showing explicit or nude photos of another student may all be grounds for a lawsuit
  • Injuries that occur on school grounds during school activities may fall under premises liability laws. Because schools have a responsibility to keep their grounds free of hazards and safe, if a child is injured due to the school’s failure, or negligence, to maintain the school grounds, you may be able to file a claim against the school district or school. If your child was injured in a school bus accident, not only could the district be liable, but the driver of the bus could also be responsible, as could the driver of any other vehicle involved in the accident. School officials act in loco parentis which means “in the place of parents” while they are at school. Failing to protect students from dangerous playground equipment, slippery floors, mold or other toxic substances, or unsanitary conditions could all be grounds for a lawsuit
  • Schools have a responsibility to make sure that students do not harm each other. At minimum, they must at least have enough employees to properly supervise the students. Recess monitors, teachers, bus drivers, hall monitors, and crossing guards all serve the purpose of protecting students. Schools must also exercise extreme care when hiring new staff. They should make certain that the people they hire are not a dangerous threat to the students around whom they will be working.

Sovereign Immunity and Florida Schools

Under Florida laws, all branches of the federal government, as well as state, county, and municipal level governments are referred to as political subdivisions, making them part of
sovereign immunity.

This type of government immunity is a form of protection that keeps government employees and entities immune from lawsuits, except in specific circumstances. This does not, however, mean that you can not successfully file a lawsuit against a government entity or school, it will just have to fall into specific parameters.

The main factor that determines if a school can be sued or not is whether the actions of the school were operational or discretionary. If your student was injured during an operational
activity, or one that was sanctioned and planned, a lawsuit may not be an option. However, it the injury occurred during a discretionary act, meaning it was not sanctioned or planned, there could be room for compensation.

You Must File a Claim First

Before you are allowed to file a lawsuit against a Florida school, statutes require that you first file a formal complaint against this school. This complaint will lay out the nature of the injury and the grievance and must be filed with the court clerk. This is an attempt to settle the incident without the use of an actual lawsuit. Before filing such a claim, it is recommended that you speak to an experienced Florida personal injury attorney.

Contact an Experienced Florida Personal Injury Attorney

The attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi have decades of experience handling a variety of personal injury lawsuits. During a consultation, they will review the circumstances surrounding your child’s
injuries and discuss with you what options are available for your situation. They are committed to offering personal and professional service to every client who walks through their door. Contact them today to schedule a consultation at one of their convenient Florida locations.