Who is liable in this PE accident?

by Jess
(Champaign, IL)

I recently learned that my sons school is being sued by another family for an accident that my son witnessed. The school is a private catholic school in Illinois. My son (16) was chasing a girl (16) in his PE class, during a game of "sharks and minnows". It's basically a game of tag.

He was getting close to her and she was laughing and looked back and ran into the wall. She broke her knee cap and her wrist. My son never touched her, and this was confirmed by 2 PE teachers and 4 other students that saw the entire accident.

Is the school liable in this case? Is anyone liable? I know my son feels horrible, but we can't understand how the school could be liable for her accident. Thanks for any information you can provide.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Who is liable in this PE accident?":

Jess (Champaign, IL):

The school can certainly be sued. Based on the facts you present, the school or the PE teacher, or both, should have known when students play the "sharks and minnows" game there is a probability those students who are being chased would look over their shoulders to see who is chasing them.

Moreover, unless the game was being played in an open field with no obstructions, walls, or other physical impediments, the school and PE teacher should have known there was a possibility, if not a probability, a student, while looking over his or her shoulder during the sharks and minnows game would run into a wall.

It would not be unreasonable to say the school and PE teacher were negligent, but it's unlikely they would be found grossly negligent. Gross negligence opens the door for a court to award not only actual damages, including pain and suffering, but punitive damages as well.

Under Illinois law, to recover punitive damages: "... plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's conduct was with evil motive or with a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others..."

Your son has no liability whatsoever. He is fortunate he too wasn't injured. He was following the instructions of his PE teacher and playing a game he impliedly had to believe was completely safe.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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