Who Is Liable If My Child Is Injured At School?
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, children have generally not been able to attend in-person school as they would in any other year. Summer is nearing its end, however, and the fight over whether children should return to school has heated up. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials have pushed for districts to reopen, to the point of threatening funding cuts if schools open remotely for the 2021 school year. However, this opens up issues of liability that raise brand new questions. If you have children that might be ordered back to school, consulting an experienced attorney may be a good idea.
Ordinarily, Limited Liability
In a normal situation, schools have very limited liability for any kind of personal injury that may happen on their premises. Public schools receive federal funding, which places them under the umbrella of ‘government entities’ for the sake of civil liability questions. Government entities benefit from a doctrine referred to as sovereign immunity – dating back to English common law, it essentially shields the government from tort claims. The theory is that if the government could be sued by every common citizen, it would have no time to govern.
That said, there are situations in which sovereign immunity can be waived, or where a settlement can be reached. Florida law specifically sets out damage caps for governmental entities – though they have been raised to $200,000 per person and $300,000 per tort claim, these are still below average in terms of personal injury damages. This means that if a public school is found liable for a student’s injuries, they only have to pay $200,000 per person or $300 per tort claim (which may include more than one person).
Pandemic Raises More Questions
While ‘normal’ rules would largely absolve schools of liability except in unusual situations, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised issues that most people simply have never had to entertain. As of this writing, the governor and the Florida education commissioner are pushing for schools to reopen completely, but the Florida Education Association (FEA) has filed suit opposing the commissioner’s order. The FEA argues that the commissioner’s order to reopen the schools flies in the face of the Florida Constitution’s requirement that schools be “safe” and “secure,” as the state’s number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, with no ability to guarantee children’s safety.
A judge in Leon County ordered the two sides to mediation, stating that while the court had the authority to rule on issues of safety and security, they could not rule on issues like school quality. What this means for parents is that the option to have their children attend school remotely is still there – but that teachers are required to be on hand in person. The question of who may be liable if parents send their children to school only to have them sicken is more up in the air than it might be in a less dire situation – teachers and school staff do have a duty to exercise care toward students, and they cannot very well do so when being forced to be at work with a potentially deadly disease. It remains to be seen what will happen with mediation and going forward in general.
Call A Tampa Personal Injury Attorney
Children generally benefit from attending in-person school in most situations, and if your child is injured at school, you may be able to seek damages most of the time. When it comes to COVID-19 exposure, however, the regulations are still being written, so to speak, because the situation is so unique. If you have questions or are worried about the potential dangers of sending your children back to in-person school, calling a Tampa personal injury attorney from the Rinaldo Law Group may help ease your mind. Call our offices today for a free consultation.