When a child is injured on school property, Connecticut law makes it rather difficult to hold the school administrators, faculty, or staff responsible for the child’s injuries. The law affords a great deal of protection to school officials and employees, shielding them on the basis of governmental immunity. A teacher or school official acting within the discretionary scope of his or her employment is typically granted generous considerations regarding liability. Otherwise, the floodgates could be opened for massive numbers of lawsuits each year.
But, what about a school official who does properly carry out his or her job-related assignments? Can he or she be held responsible if a student is injured as a result? A recent ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court indicates that the answer is “maybe.”
Smoking Before School
The case before the Supreme Court began with a 14-year-old student who rode the bus to school in Colchester every day. Most mornings, the young man would get off the bus at the school’s bus port then intentionally cross the street to leave school property—a violation of school policy—and smoke cigarette. One morning, as he attempted to cross the street, the student was hit by a car and severely injured. A subsequent lawsuit sought damages from a range of defendants, including the driver of the car, the superintendent of the school district, the principal of the school, and two vice principals.
Summary Judgment and Appeals
At trial, the presiding judge issues a summary judgment regarding the liability of the school officials, based on government immunity and the fact that the student voluntarily left school grounds to smoke. The subsequent appeal made its way to the state’s highest court. The plaintiff claimed that the principal and vice principals had a non-discretionary duty to implement safety procedures for arriving and departing students, including ensuring that staff members assigned to bus duty carried out their assignments, thus overriding the protections offered to discretionary decisions by school officials.
By a 6-1 margin, the Supreme Court upheld several of the trial court’s summary judgments but reversed and remanded the judgment concerning the vice principals. The court determined that while the principal properly delegated the creation and implementation of a bus duty system to the vice principals, there was no evidence that the vice principals properly did so. The school could not produce a copy of the bus duty roster that the vice principals claim was developed, nor could any party recall ever seeing one published. As a result, no staff members were present at the bus port, thereby allowing the 14-year-old student to leave school grounds.
It is important to note that the Supreme Court did not find the vice principals liable for the boy’s injuries. Instead, the ruling indicated that the matter required more in-depth consideration than was given by the trial court in issuing a summary judgment.
Injured on School Grounds?
This case is a good example of how nuanced the law can be, especially when government immunity may be a factor. If your child was injured at school and you would like to know more about your legal options, contact an experienced Hartford personal injury attorney. Call The Woolf Law Firm today at [[phone1]] for a free consultation and get the answers you need.