Students who are members of their schools’ sports teams suffer injuries every day, but playing fields, basketball courts, and wrestling mats aren’t the only places on school campuses where personal injuries occur. On a daily basis, students get hurt in hallways, classrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds, gym classes, and on buses. One estimate puts the number of children 14 and under who sustain personal injuries at school every year at 2.2 million, and the cost of treating those injuries tops $2 billion.
Many of those injuries happen because school administrators and teachers fail to supervise students and because school officials ignore obvious risks. When injuries do occur because of a lack of supervision or because of a failure to correct a known hazard, schools will be held liable for students’ injuries.
In California, state law requires a safe learning atmosphere and proper supervision for all students. Section 44807 of the California Education Code states clearly that teachers are responsible for the safety of their students:
Every teacher in the public schools shall hold pupils to a strict account for their conduct on the way to and from school, on the playgrounds, or during recess.
Despite the obvious need to oversee students during the school day, a recent study found that children play without adult supervision more often on school playgrounds (32 percent of the time) than on playgrounds in parks (22 percent). Another study has found a dramatic rise in gym class injuries, and that study blames much of the rise on poor supervision and uncertified teachers.
In California, the courts have consistently held school districts to high levels of responsibility for the safety of their students. One example is the case of Joyce vs. Simi Valley. In 1989, Jennifer Joyce, who was 13 at the time, was hit by a car at a dangerous crosswalk at her school. She eventually won a verdict of $2.9 million because the school district had known of the danger at the crosswalk for years, but failed to correct it. Since then, the courts have continued to hold schools accountable for student safety.
Here are some basic legal facts concerning student injuries at school:
• California’s public schools are public entities, and injured students and their parents can bring legal action against them.
• A child in a California public school only has one year from the date of the injury to file a government tort claim, which is required before filing suit. For adults, the time limit is 6 months for a claim and in all cases one should be filed as soon as possible.
• For private schools, many rules and regulations are different. Injured students in private schools generally have until their 20th birthdays to file suit for a school-related injury, but the contract signed with the school may give up your right to bring legal action for personal injuries.
Anyone needing help for a child injured at school can talk to an experienced lawyer by contacting us at 888.777.1776. There is never a charge.