WASHINGTON, August 16, 2015 − The last family summer trip may still be just ahead, but before you blink, school will again be the routine. While the children are trying to savor the last of summer, parents will soon need to address numerous legal issues that may seem routine, but that are nonetheless very important.
Children are injury prone; when there are many of them congregated together, the risk of injury increases. If a child is injured during school hours, or in something that occurs during an after-school activity or involvement in a sport, there are several issues.
How the injury occurred is important, legally speaking:
- The injured child’s neglect or another child’s neglect may be the cause.
- School faculty or staff may be at fault.
- Unsafe conditions at the school may be involved.
- Unsafe practices by faculty or coaches could also have caused or contributed to the injury.
Schools and teachers generally have immunity against claims for simple negligence. A student who falls in a hallway because there was no “wet floor” sign is probably not going to have a viable claim against the school or the janitor. Similarly, accidents that occur in classrooms or locker rooms will not usually provide a basis for claims leading to compensation.
Despite the immunity, which prevents a full-blown compensation claim, some schools have insurance policies that will cover medical bills up to a pre-determined amount.
When injuries occur because of “gross negligence,” the possibility for obtaining compensation is better. Gross negligence in a school setting might include a teacher asking a child to do something clearly dangerous or a coach allowing a child to stay in a game when the child is physically exhausted.
Gross negligence can include injuries from unsafe conditions that were known to the school when nothing was done to repair the problem in a reasonable time.
Gross negligence might be the failure of a teacher to properly monitor recess or a sports activity, and even more, could be cited if the teacher knew or should have known of a particular problem or concern affecting the well-being of the students. Knowing another child routinely bullies someone and failing to take precautionary steps, along with adequate evidence of this, might be the basis for a very good claim.
Injuries that happen because of intentional or criminal acts of teachers or staff are often compensable, particularly if it can be shown that the adult actor had a history involving the type of problem and the school knew, or should have known, about that history. For example, schools are not supposed to hire known child sex offenders.
An important issue for schools and parents involves liability waivers. There are seemingly endless waivers parents are being asked to sign that seek to limit the school’s responsibility if something happens during a field trip or during a sports practice or game. These waivers are not at all “standard” and should be read thoroughly before signing them. The alternative to not signing, of course, is not allowing the child to participate. Not participating may be the smart thing, given the language of the waiver.
Waivers, despite what they say, cannot relieve the school from responsibility in cases of gross negligence. For instance, a teacher might stay on a school bus texting friends while young children get out and attempt to cross the street without supervision
Social Media Policies
At what age do you give your child a mobile telephone? All of them now have cameras.
Does your child’s school have a policy about monitoring students’ social media activity? If so, how do you feel about that? It is legal, but it is also intrusive. It is a safety and security concern, and it is done in many schools to protect against online bullying and other misconduct.
Does you child sext? How do you know? This can get your child into significant trouble. It is appropriate to have a conversation with your child.
What are the school’s policies regrading free speech and individual rights?
Drinking and Drugs
This is a reality. Again, there is a need for a conversation with your children. Aside from drugs and alcohol being harmful to a child, it is also clear that the earlier a child starts down this path, the more harmful it is.
Many private schools are now testing students for alcohol and drugs for just such reasons.
Do not host parties where alcohol will be served, and assure that you actively monitor these parties, despite the protestations of your children.
Do you know where your child is? Parents can get into trouble if their children skip school. Chronic or excessive unexplained absences by the kids can land the parents in jail. Review truancy laws with the school and your child – make sure that they understand the consequences of their behavior.
The concept of negligent entrustment means you allowed your child to drive when you knew, or should have known, that your child should not be driving. Do you have a child that drives and do you allow that child to have a mobile telephone? Do you know that the incidence of teens who text while driving is higher than any other age group?
Did you know that texting while driving is six times more dangerous than drunk driving?
Determine if your child is ready for the responsibility of driving a car. Injuries can be deadly. Your child will be responsible. Possibly, you may be also.
We have children for a reason. School is not a substitute parent. Parents must be proactive to assure safety, and to assure that the school environment does what it is supposed to do: promote education, emotional, psychological and physical growth.
Back to school is so much fun! What color is your backpack this year?
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on http://www.completeaccidentbook.com and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order
Mr. Samakow’s “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign, El Textarudo, has become nationally recognized. Please visit the website http://www.textarudo.com and “like” the concept on the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/textarudo.