Find out who should pay when your child is hurt in a fight at school. Your child has a right to compensation for injuries from an assault by another student.
We send our kids off to school each day with the expectation they will be kept safe and free from undue harm. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Approximately one out of every four kids will be involved in a fight during a typical year. ¹
If your child is hurt in a fight, you may incur medical or dental bills. Sometimes psychological counseling is necessary to heal the trauma from an assault.
If your child was assaulted at school, you have a right to seek legal justice and compensation for your child’s injuries.
The School Has a Legal Obligation
Through the legal doctrine of in loco parentis (a Latin term meaning “in place of the parent”), schools and its teachers assume the role of parents in the areas of supervision and discipline.
The school’s role in looking after your child is important. Each school has a legal “duty of care,” or obligation to do everything within reason to protect students from undue harm. The school’s duty includes exercising good judgment and using reasonable force when necessary to stop student-on-student violence.
A school’s legal duty of care begins the minute a student steps onto a school bus and continues throughout the school day, during extracurricular activities, and when students are off school property for school-sponsored activities.
The school’s duty of care ends when the student steps off the school bus at the end of the day, leaves with a parent, or in the case of high-school students, leaves on their own.
The Injured Child’s Damages
When a school breaches (violates) its duty of care, the breach constitutes negligence. When a school’s negligence results in injuries to a student, the student can receive compensation for their damages.
Damages can include the student’s:
- Medical, dental, and therapy bills
- Out-of-pocket expenses (for medications, crutches, slings, etc.)
- Lost wages (for a working teenager, or when a parent must take off work to care for the child)
- Pain, suffering and emotional distress.
Parental Claims for Compensation
Depending on the severity of the child’s injuries, compensation may be available for the parent’s lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, and vehicle mileage related to their child’s injuries.
Compensation for pain and suffering is not usually available to parents, but your child’s attorney may be able to pursue a claim for loss of consortium, that is, the parent’s loss of their child’s help, comfort, and companionship because of the child’s injuries.
What the School Should Be Doing
Fights are a dangerous form of bullying that can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, permanent disability, and even death.
“Boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls” are common refrains teachers and school administrators use in the face of criticism over incidents of student-on-student assaultive behavior. Those old excuses aren’t acceptable. Fights in school can leave a child bloodied and battered with black eyes, lost teeth, cuts, bruises, and emotional scars.
Stopping a Fight Before It Starts
A school’s duty of care requires teachers and other qualified school personnel to intervene before or during a school fight. The duty to intervene begins when a school knows or should know a student is prone to violence.
When a school is aware of a student’s tendency toward violence, the school should act before another child is injured.
The school can intervene with a potentially dangerous student by:
- Reprimanding the student for aggressive behavior
- Notifying the aggressive student’s parents of a zero-tolerance policy of violence in school
- Taking corrective action with the aggressive student
- Removing the student from school to protect other students
When a school is aware of a student’s violent nature and takes ineffective measures to prevent them from committing future violence, the school may be liable when the violent student harms another student.
The duty to intervene, like the school’s general duty of care, begins when the student steps onto the school bus and ends when the child returns home. In other words, the school should protect your child on the bus, during school events at home or away, and on the school grounds, not only in the school building.
However, the school is not automatically responsible for every fight that breaks out at school.
Case Summary: School Could Not Foresee Student Fight
Cheyanne Conklin’s father was monitoring his daughter’s social media when he saw an entry that worried him. The post indicated another student, Cassidy Edwards was going to fight his daughter in school the next day.
Conklin’s father immediately notified the school. The next morning, the school social worker conducted a mediation with Conklin and Edwards. Both girls remained calm and denied any intention to fight physically.
Edwards had no prior record of violence or fighting.
Conklin was allowed to return to class, while Edwards first met with the school resource officer to discuss the criminal consequences of attacking another student, then met with the school’s assistant principal to discuss the disciplinary repercussions of fighting.
Edwards assured all three adults she had no intention of fighting with Conklin and insisted she never said she wanted to fight Conklin.
Later that day, Conklin was walking in the school hall when Edwards attacked her from behind. Edwards pulled her down by her hair and repeatedly punched Conklin in the head. The fight was quickly stopped by nearby teachers.
Conklin’s father filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming the school’s negligent supervision caused his daughter’s injuries.
Both the district court and the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of the school district.
The courts found the school had taken reasonable precautions in response to rumors of a threat against Conklin and could not have foreseen Edward’s sudden attack. The school “cannot be held liable for every thoughtless or careless act by which one pupil may injure another.’”
Breaking up Fights in Progress
Even in the best of circumstances, school fights can erupt. A punch can be thrown in a split second. When a teacher sees a fight, they have a duty to break it up physically. The teacher has the power to use reasonable force to end the fight as quickly as possible to avoid further injuries.
School districts traditionally indemnify (insure) teachers for injuries they may cause to students while breaking up a fight.
If, while stepping in to end a fight, a teacher injures a student, the school will defend the teacher, absorbing all legal costs for lawsuits parents file and any insurance settlements or court-awarded judgments against the teacher. So long as the teacher is acting appropriately, within the scope of their employment, the school protects the teacher.
If the teacher is physically unable to stop the fight, they should seek immediate help from other teachers and staff. It is never appropriate for school personnel to just stand back and watch students duke it out.
School Fight Laws and Regulations
To guide teachers and school administrators in exercising their duty of care toward students, each state has laws and regulations that set out the policies and protocol school employees must follow when dealing with student behavior, including student violence.
Find the rules and guidelines for your location: State Education Codes
Law Enforcement Intervention for School Fights
Assault and battery is a crime, even when the fight is between two students. Depending upon the severity of a student’s injuries, schools can decide whether to call the police to make an arrest or not. This discretionary power is a two-edged sword.
On the one hand, if the school doesn’t call the police to arrest the student, they may breach their duty of care to protect the other students. On the other hand, having a student arrested for a minor assault can seriously affect the student’s future. An arrest record, even for a minor assault, can have far-reaching consequences.
Another problem often faced by schools is figuring out who threw the first punch. Most school fights begin with pushing and shoving. Is the student who first shoved the other student guilty of assault? What if the other student responds with a punch?
In some locations, the school defers to the injured student’s parents. The school will ask the injured student, with the advice and counsel of the student’s parents, whether they want to file a police report and have the student who initiated the fight arrested.
In other locations, the school will involve local law enforcement in every incident of school violence.
Arrest and Prosecution for Fighting
Depending on the circumstances of the fight, when the police arrive, they may arrest everyone involved. Underage students will remain in custody until the authorities, usually in discussion with the parents, decide what happens next.
Fights involving weapons, severe injuries, or the intent to inflict severe injuries, can lead to arrest and criminal prosecution, particularly if there are reliable witnesses to help with the investigation.
Older students may be charged as an adult for aggravated assault and battery, or the student who started the fight might go through the juvenile justice system.
Whether or not the student who hurt your child is arrested, you still have the right to pursue the at-fault child and their parents for compensation.
The Other Parent’s Legal Obligation
In most states, parents are liable, meaning responsible, for their children’s actions. This liability means parents must compensate the injured student for damages.
Parental liability can run at the same time as school liability. An injured student can pursue a claim of negligence against the school and the other child’s parents, individually and collectively.
Before anyone can assess parental liability, the injured student must prove the assault was unprovoked and not the result of self-defense. The law does not recognize verbal abuse as grounds for physical assault. The adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is a legal truism.
The only time when throwing the first blow is legally acceptable is when the bully’s words threatened the other student with imminent bodily injury, or there was an imminent threat of bodily harm to a third person nearby.
Gathering Evidence for Fight Claims
If you’re considering a personal injury claim against the school or the parents of the student who injured your child, you must gather evidence to support your claim.
In the case of school liability, you’ll need evidence the school either:
- Failed to prevent the fight by expelling or admonishing a violent student
- Failed to physically intervene in the fight to minimize injuries to your child
Education Codes: Start by reading the part of your state’s education code dealing with school disciplinary powers over students with violent behavior. Knowing what the school should have done will help you while gathering evidence.
School Records: Student records are confidential, so you can’t review a student’s record to see whether the school previously admonished or disciplined them for fighting.
Even without seeing a student’s records, your child and their friends can likely tell you whether the violent student was previously in fights at school and if so, what type of disciplinary action the school took.
The school’s failure to effectively deal with a student’s violent behavior enhances their liability, making your case against the school that much stronger.
The school will not disclose student records or other evidence without a subpoena. Contact a personal injury attorney to be sure the school preserves evidence relating to the fight.
Photographs and Videos: Photographs and video are very helpful to a claim. Take pictures of your child’s injuries as soon after the fight as possible, and continue to take pictures during their recovery.
Most kids carry cell phones and are quick to capture videos of any incident. Tell your child’s attorney if you know of any children who have a video showing the fight. Previous videos of the other student in fights with other kids will also be helpful.
Work with the attorney to collect images, posts, and videos from social media that will support your child’s claim.
School Surveillance Footage: Schools often use cameras for security in common areas of the school property. Find out if there was a surveillance camera near the area where your child was attacked.
Let the school know you expect all footage taken the day of the fight to be preserved as evidence. The school won’t voluntarily hand it over to you, but your child’s attorney can subpoena copies.
Witness Statements: There are usually multiple witnesses to fights in school. Their written statements are invaluable. Speak with parents of students who may have witnessed the fight. Ask them to have their children write down in their own words what they saw, especially who started the fight.
Damages: You can get as angry with the school or the other student as you want, but if your child doesn’t have legitimate damages, including medical or dental bills, you don’t have a valid personal injury claim.
You need proof of all costs related to your child’s injuries, including medical bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and verification of your child’s lost wages. Get copies of your child’s medical, dental, and therapy records. They are all crucial in supporting the amount of compensation that fairly represents your child’s damages.
Get Compensation for School Fight Injuries
If your child’s injuries are minor, soft tissue injuries like bumps and bruises, cuts and minor swelling, you can probably risk handling the claim yourself. So long as your child is fully recovered and you are only seeking enough money to cover a few medical bills, the school may be willing to pay the claim quickly.
However, if your child suffered serious physical, emotional, or psychological injuries from a fight at school, you’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney to protect your child’s interest.
- Private Schools: If your child was attacked at a private school, contact the administrator and ask for the school’s insurance information. You or your child’s attorney can negotiate directly with the insurance company.
- Public Schools: Just like any other branch of government, public schools are protected by special immunities from litigation. Meaning, it’s very hard to sue a public school. There are complicated rules for filing injury claims against government entities. Any mistake can extinguish the claim.
Injury claims for “infants” are always complicated. In legal and insurance terms, an infant is any child under the age of majority, usually 18 years old. Most states have specific rules for handling infant injury claims, especially when it comes to large amounts of money.
Your child may be entitled to compensation from the school, the student who caused the fight, and the at-fault student’s parents. Only an experienced attorney has the skill, knowledge, and legal tools to get the full amount of available compensation for your child.
Reputable attorneys don’t charge for the initial consultation. Talk to as many attorneys as you like to find the right “fit” for your family. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you and your child.
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School Fight Claim Questions & Answers
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