POSTED BY SAM MUKERJI ON September 19, 2014

Although some of the most influential decisions issued by the United States Supreme Court emanated from incidents that took place in a public school, the reality is that lawsuits filed against public schools tend to be fruitless unless they address constitutional issues. When it comes to students injured on school premises or while participating in certain activities related to their respective educational curriculum, public school districts around the country enjoy a certain degree of legal immunity.

Prayer in School

At least one public school district in Texas has made it to the Supreme Court. In the year 2000, the Santa Fe Independent School District was ruled to be acting in an unconstitutional manner when it allowed a student chaplain to lead the entire school in prayer over the public announcement system. This was, however, a case related to the First Amendment. Unless a lawsuit squarely addresses a constitutional matter, it is important to remember the following:

  • In general, public schools cannot be sued for injuries unless the civil complaint involves a school bus accident
  • The above generally applies to charter schools as well
  • The above does not apply to private schools, which can be sued in civil court for just about any reasonable matter

There are, however, some exceptions to the three bullet points above.

Understanding the Immunity of Public School Districts and Its Exceptions

It is not hard to understand the practical philosophy behind the blanket immunity granted to public school districts that provide free education. Students get injured all the time despite efforts by public schools to keep them safe. It would be unreasonable and impractical to see parents filing lawsuits against schools because their children sprain an ankle during soccer practice; court systems would not be able to handle the avalanche of cases.

The element of a reasonable complaint should be observed even when filing a civil complaint against a private school that has taken all steps necessary to keep students safe. Law firms that take on student injury cases will do so when they believe that there is a possibility of finding a party liable for the incident that resulted in injury. This is particularly the case when outside individuals or business entities contracted by the school are involved, including:

  • Building contractors
  • Volunteers
  • Visitors

How Does Gross Negligence Work?

Public school districts are not immune to being sued for gross negligence. For example, some public schools still exercise corporal punishment in the form of making students run extra laps; however, making a student in Texas run outside during the summer in 100-degree weather could result in heat exhaustion and even stroke. This is an example of gross negligence, and parents would have every right to sue the school and prevail in court; although it is very possible that school district attorneys would quickly propose a settlement offer.

Speak with an Attorney

It can be very confusing at times whether or not you can take legal action against a school. Ultimately, if your child has been injured, the best thing you can do is speak with a personal injury attorney. Most lawyers offer a free consultation session, so there is not harm in calling an attorney and getting his professional opinion.

school buses by Rupert Ganzer by CC BY-ND 2.0

Child Safety