Children and teenagers in the United States sustain about 14 million reported injuries every year. About one in four of those injuries happen in and around schools. That’s no surprise, since children who are old enough for school spend a considerable portion of their time either in classes or in school-related activities. But if you are a parent in the state of Texas, and if your child is seriously injured at a Texas public school, you’ll want to know who is legally responsible for the injury, and you’ll want to know if you have legal recourse.
The answers to those questions can often be quite complicated. Those answers depend on the facts and circumstances surrounding each individual accident where a child is injured at a public school. In most cases, a Texas school district cannot be sued for personal injuries. Public school districts, like all other federal, state, and local government entities, have “sovereign immunity” – legal protection from most lawsuits. A Texas school district cannot be sued for simple negligence.
Sovereign immunity sounds unfair at first, but without that legal protection, public schools would have to abandon their athletic programs, and classes like chemistry and shop would probably disappear. Thus, if a child is injured at a Texas public school, the child’s parents will probably have to prove that a school employee engaged in intentional or reckless behavior – “gross” negligence – in order for a personal injury lawsuit against a school district to prevail.
WHO IS PROTECTED BY SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY?
However, sovereign immunity gives legal protection only to the school district and its employees. Public schools in Texas are generally not protected from personal injury lawsuits related to the negligence of their volunteers, contractors, and other non-employees. In fact, the public schools in our state have a reasonable duty to protect their students from any negligent acts committed by non-employees on school premises.
When a child is at school, however, even an injury caused by another child might or might not be considered the school district’s responsibility. Schools and teachers are expected to supervise children quite closely, and when a child is injured at school while unsupervised, the school district might be liable. The question is: Was the school reckless or “grossly” negligent in its lack of supervision, or was it merely an incidence of “simple” negligence? Close supervision of children is imperative on public school playgrounds, at swimming pools, athletic fields, and during all school and school-related activities.
Is a school district liable if a student is hurt in a school bus collision? As you might expect, the answer once again is, “It depends.” A school district might or might not be liable – or partly liable – for an injury suffered in a school bus crash. If a defective item or flawed safety equipment is responsible or partly responsible for a school-related accident and injury – anything from a football helmet to the brakes on a school bus – the manufacturer of the item may be at least partially liable.
If your child is injured in a Houston-area public school, you might pursue a personal injury lawsuit to recover your family’s injury-related losses and costs from the school district. However, because of sovereign immunity, a personal injury lawsuit against a Texas school district is permitted only for very narrow and specific reasons. A lawsuit against any governmental body always means that a number of additional procedures and rules must be followed.
WHAT BEHAVIOR IS CONSIDERED GROSS NEGLIGENCE?
Generally speaking, public schools in Texas cannot be sued for personal injuries unless the complaint is about a school bus accident. However, while a school district cannot be sued for simple negligence, public school districts in the state of Texas are not immune to being sued for recklessness or “gross” negligence. Examples of gross negligence by a teacher might include, for example, ignoring a doctor’s note and making a child participate in sports. Every case and situation is different. That is why, if your child is injured at school, you will need the sound legal advice that an experienced Houston personal injury attorney can provide.
When children are in school, the school provides for the children’s needs – almost as a surrogate parent. Public schools in Texas are responsible to provide food, shelter, heat, transportation, and a generally safe and secure environment. The opportunities for failure are infinite – and new every day. If a Texas public school fails to maintain the generally-accepted minimum standards of care when providing these basics, and if a student is injured due to that failure, the school is negligent. Whether the negligence is simple or gross – and whether or not legal action can be taken – will depend on the specific details of the incident.
Product liability lawsuits can be pursued against the manufacturers of dangerous or defective lab equipment, playground and athletic equipment, school buses, and vehicle parts. In the state of Texas, if a child is injured while attending school or taking part in a school event, an experienced Houston personal injury attorney can examine the particulars of the case and provide the reliable and frank legal counsel that parents need. If you do not have sufficient grounds for a lawsuit, a good personal injury lawyer will explain the reasons why.
WHY IS IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION IMPERATIVE?
When their child suffers a catastrophic injury, a family can be deeply, negatively impacted. Even when an injury or accident appears to be insignificant, a child should receive medical attention immediately from a doctor – don’t settle for the school nurse. If the family later chooses to pursue legal action, the doctor’s medical paperwork will be needed. Medical bills can pile up quickly after a serious injury, but a family has the legal right to full compensation for all injury-related expenses when their child is injured by gross negligence in a Texas public school.
School districts in the state of Texas have a legal and ethical duty to inspect their playgrounds and premises for safety hazards, to maintain school buses for safety, and to check thoroughly and comprehensively the backgrounds of their employees prior to hiring. Our kids deserve to be our most important priority. When parents can prove their child was injured at a Houston-area public school because of gross negligence, the school district in most cases can be held legally accountable.
By: Joseph Onwuteaka
Joseph Onwuteaka has spent more than three decades studying the practice of law and the many different specialized areas of litigation. He draws from this knowledge and experience to advise his clients with their best interest in mind, and nobody else's. His motives are genuine and his expertise is apparent in the courtroom. You can trust Joseph Onwuteaka, P.C., to handle all of your legal matters so that you can move on with your life.