Suing School Districts for Personal Injuries and Other Claims

If your child is hurt in school, suing the at-fault school is only one option. Learn how to take action against a public school district.

Few conflicts can get heated so quickly as those involving your child. As parents, we have a duty to keep our kids safe and look out for their well-being. But we can’t be there for our kids all the time. They spend a large chunk of their lives out of our sight at school.

Because educators and public school administrators are trained professionals, we assume we can trust them with our children.

But what happens when our kids’ schools fail them? Maybe your child had a slip and fall accident and got hurt when their elementary school teacher was supposed to be watching. Or a bully might be victimizing your teenager in high school every day. Worse, a teacher could be discriminating against your kid.

Nor are those the only possibilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new wave of lawsuits across the United States. Schools have had their share of those.

Recently, the city of San Francisco sued the San Francisco Unified School District and Board of Education to re-open schools for in-person learning. Other coronavirus pandemic-related lawsuits against schools are sure to follow. Controversies continue to rage about distance learning, in-person instruction, and how they relate to childhood development.

Suing a school board or district is a complicated process. It requires several extra steps before you can even progress to the point of a lawsuit. Because public schools are government entities, they are subject to extra rules. They are also vulnerable to federal civil rights claims.

This article will take a look at the process of filing lawsuits against a school district. You should also consider other options for bringing claims. These may be easier, cheaper and less confrontational. We’ll also examine the legal basis for suing your child’s school district.

Filing a Notice of Claim Against the District

Gym teacher offering her hand to an injured child sitting on the floor

Suing a public school district is more complicated than suing a private business. Because school districts are parts of a local government, the rules for bringing injury claims against a government agency must be followed.

While this may sound like an insurmountable obstacle to a lawsuit, in practice it’s not so bad. All states have enacted laws allowing school districts to be sued in certain circumstances. For example, you can sue when a student has been injured due to the negligence of a school.

Furthermore, public schools are accountable for actions that violate Constitutional rights. Schools are also subject to Title IX, a federal law that protects against sexual harassment or discrimination in schools.

What about private schools?

If your child attends a private school, things are different. These schools are not part of the school district and thus not a part of the government. However, your contract with the school may include rules for reporting grievances.

The practical question is now how to get your lawsuit filed. In most states, the process starts with a notice of claim filed with the school district.

These notices generally have shorter deadlines than you would have for a lawsuit. A California notice, for example, must be filed within six months of the date of the injury. New York has a similar process, but only gives 90 days to file a notice of claim.

It’s important that you check your state’s deadline for filing a notice of claim against a government agency as soon as possible. If you miss this deadline, you may lose your right to file a lawsuit against the school district.

Your state’s statute of limitations for injury claims may not apply to claims against a government agency.

If you have any doubts about the legal requirements for suing a school district in your state, don’t wait around. Contact a personal injury attorney for legal advice before it’s too late.

Once you file a notice of claim, you will need to wait a bit. You’re generally required to give the school district time to resolve your problem before you proceed with a lawsuit. While this may seem like an unnecessary delay, it can present you with a faster, satisfactory alternative to a court case.

Options for Alternative Dispute Resolution

Woman smiling while her two colleagues shake hands

You may be able to make good use of the time between your filing of a notice with the school district and a lawsuit.

Many school systems have designed programs for alternative dispute resolution (ADR). These processes can help you to understand the evidence and attempt to reach a solution before incurring the cost of a lawsuit.

After the school district has had time to review your notice of claim, you’ll have options. One of the more common ADR methods is mediation. Mediation is really a guided negotiation. A neutral third party talks to both sides and attempts to find a mutually agreeable solution.

Mediation can also help preserve the relationship between a family and the school. Lawsuits can be stressful and expensive. Court may be where your dispute belongs, but you owe it to yourself and your child to make sure.

Less commonly, the parties may agree to arbitration. Here, a third party (usually an attorney or retired judge) considers the facts and makes a decision. They may also give a monetary award that can then be enforced as a judgment.

Mediation and arbitration are not appropriate in every case. But they are worth considering as less expensive ways to resolve disputes with a school district. In the event that you are interested in these alternatives, you should speak with an attorney for more information.

Basis for Suing a School District

Stairs in front of a building

If you file your notice of claim with the school district and are unable to come to a satisfactory solution, you will have to file a lawsuit. You will have many options for proceeding with your claim.

First, you can proceed under state law on a negligence claim. Though school districts are often not directly liable for the intentional misbehavior of district employees, they can be liable for negligent supervision, hiring, or retention of those employees. They can also be liable for dangerous conditions at their schools that cause you or your child injury.

State anti-discrimination laws may also apply to schools. For example, Nevada’s public accommodation law applies to any “place of education” and prevents discrimination based on a wide variety of characteristics.

However, if the Constitutional rights of you or your child have been violated by the school district, or if you want to maintain a lawsuit based on Title IX, you will likely have to file your lawsuit in federal court, which has original jurisdiction over such cases.

Federal court is often more formal and less plaintiff-friendly than state court. If you consider taking this route, you ought to have a conversation with an experienced attorney in your state to ensure that you have the best possible chance of success.

Putting Children First

Our kids are the most important people in our lives. We should be able to trust the people and institutions with whom they spend so much of their days. When we can’t, we need to focus on finding the best possible solutions to the problem while protecting our children’s well-being and right to a quality education.

If you or your child have been injured or adversely affected by the actions of a school district or school employees, it’s critical that you take action as soon as possible. Contact a qualified lawyer or law firm in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>

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