As a parent, sending your children to school may feel like a leap of faith. You are entrusting the school to protect your children from injury while on school property or participating in school-sponsored activities.
Although New York schools have safety practices in place, human error and negligence can still lead to tragic student injuries that are traumatic for the entire family.
For example, there’s the story of a 9-year-old Brooklyn boy who suffered an injury in gym class that required emergency brain surgery and a lengthy hospital stay. These issues aren’t limited to our city – or even our country. As of this writing a trial is currently ongoing in the United Arab Emirates regarding a 4-year-old boy who drowned to death during swimming class, resulting in six negligence charges against school staff.
School injuries can occur off school grounds as well, such as in the case of the New York school bus that recently slid off the road, colliding with a building and causing a serious leg injury to one student.
When things like this happen due to the negligent actions of schools or school staff, can they be held liable?
In many cases, determining liability for a school injury and seeking compensation for damages is more complicated than you may think. Therefore, we’ve put together this guide for New York parents detailing how liability is determined, and how to seek damages following a New York school injury.
Who Is Legally Responsible for a NY School Injury?
Let’s look at some common examples.
If another student throws a rock at your child on the playground, your first inclination may be to assume that the student – not the school district – is liable for the injury. However, if the students were not properly supervised while at play, or the school failed to remove hazardous objects from the playground, the school district may still be liable. Similarly, if the other student had a history of violent behavior that the school did not sufficiently address, the school could also be held liable.
If your child is injured on a school bus, several parties could be held liable. For example, if the bus is operated by a transit contractor, this party could be held liable. Even if another driver is responsible for the accident, the school district or transit company may still be partially liable depending on the circumstances.
New York School Districts and Sovereign Immunity
One issue that parents of injured students run up against is the fact that public school districts are a government agency, and therefore enjoy what is known as “sovereign immunity” in all 50 states. This means that in most cases, a government agency and its employees are immune from lawsuits – except under specific circumstances.
The good news is that all states have conditionally waived this immunity for schools, and will allow claims to be filed when the negligence of the school district and/or one of its employees leads to student injuries.
However, there are still very specific procedures necessary for holding a school district liable. Failing to observe these procedures could result in immediate dismissal of the lawsuit.
Notice of Claim Process in New York Public Schools
The state of New York mandates that a “Notice of Claim” must be filed with the district or appropriate state agency before a personal injury lawsuit can be filed in court.
The Notice of Claim must be:
- Describe the nature of the incident, including the wrongful action on the part of the district or its employees
- Describe the nature of the injuries
- Include a demand for compensation in a specific dollar amount
Additionally, the Notice of Claim must be filed within 90 days of the incident. Once 30 days have passed, if the claim is denied or no action is taken, a lawsuit may be filed with the New York Supreme Court.
What does this mean for you?
If your kid is injured in school due to another’s negligence, you should not have to pay for their mistake. However, seeking damages may be the only way to get the compensation your family needs and deserves, and suing a New York school can be especially tricky. For the best chance at helping your child recover without raiding his or her college fund, your best bet is to work with an experienced and knowledgeable NY injury lawyer.