Visitor Question

Can I sue my employer for negligence outside of Workers’ Comp?

Submitted By: Anonymous (Maple Valley, Washington)

I was a substitute para-educator in my district who took jobs on my own schedule. I was asked by the sub line if I would substitute in the SAILS classroom. I really didn’t know what it was or what type of students.

At the end of my second week, I was violently attacked by a special needs student (not the student I was shadowing) which caused a multitude of injuries—the worst requiring brain surgery 6 weeks ago.

I was not trained to work with these severe students, nor I was warned by the school district that any students in the classroom could be aggressive. Come to find out, this student had had issues for many years in the past with aggressive behavior. The school district had already hired an outside behavioral company for him that was to start in a week.

Being a substitute, this has caused serious financial hardship as Workers Comp does not pay much based on my sub wages. The emotional toll on myself and my kids has been devastating and has caused severe depression.

Can I sue the school district for my damages? I appreciate any information you can provide.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.


Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for contacting us, and we’re quite sorry for the pain you’ve suffered. You can likely file a lawsuit against the school district on a negligence theory.

Workers’ Compensation and Third-Party Injury Claims

Employees typically must trudge through their states’ workers’ compensation process to receive payment for work-related injuries.

For a resident of Washington State, this means working with the State’s Department of Labor & Industries and its rules and policies.

However, some exceptions allow workers to pursue the full amount of compensation they deserve directly from the employer.

One exception is for injuries caused by a third-party, meaning someone other than your employer or a co-worker. The exception allows an injured party to pursue a money award from the employer in court, when the employee was injured by a third-party under circumstances that the employer could have prevented.

Here, the third-party is the special needs student who injured you.

Negligence Claims

You’ll want to file a lawsuit based on a negligence theory if you decide to sue the school district. Negligence is a legal term that means a person or entity failed to act reasonably under the circumstances.

You must prove the following when bringing this type of claim.

  1. The employer had a duty of care to avoid causing harm to others
  2. The employer breached that duty by failing to act reasonably
  3. The breach caused your injuries
  4. You experienced verifiable injuries (verified by your medical bills)

In third-party claims, an employer often has a duty to protect its employees from dangerous third parties. The task is real when the employer knew of the third party’s predisposition to violence.

Further, the law in these situations, expects the employer to take some type of action to protect employees from the third party’s dangerous behavior. If it fails, then the business likely breached its duty of care.

Here, the school district knew that the student had past issues with aggressive behavior. The knowledge means it had a duty to protect you.

But, the school likely failed in upholding this duty. The district did not train you, and it did not even warn you of any aggressive children. Granted, the school did hire the behavioral company for assistance, but the company had not yet started.

Since it’s also apparent that the student caused your verifiable injuries, you can probably succeed in all four elements of a negligence claim.

Damages in a Personal Injury Suit

Workers’ compensation claims will reimburse injured employees for such costs as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages

Workers’ comp doesn’t pay anything, though, for pain and suffering (which you’ve experienced).

In a personal injury lawsuit against an employer, the employee is entitled to a broader range of damages, including pain and suffering.

In your case, pain and suffering includes compensation for your emotional toll and your unfortunate experience with depression.

No personal injury case is a slam dunk. Filing a lawsuit against a government agency, such as a public school district, can be complicated. Given this, we recommend that you contact a local attorney for assistance.

Your number one priority right now is to heal and take care of your family. Let a personal injury lawyer do the difficult work of filing a lawsuit for you.

Please take care of yourself, and we sincerely wish you the best.

Learn more here: Reasons to Sue Your Employer

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.

Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call 888-972-0892.

We wish you the best with your claim,


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