In our blog we will try to provide you with general information regarding car accidents, motorcycle crashes, and personal injury cases, as well as updates in important cases and statutes dealing with family law in New Hampshire. This is not to be construed as legal advice. Every case is unique and small facts can make a difference.
If My Child Is Injured, Can I Sue Their School?
Whether a minor child, or their parents, injured on school property can sue the institution for monetary damages depends upon several different factors. Today, we’re going to take a look at these factors, including whether or not the legal concept of sovereign immunity could prevent a personal injury lawsuit altogether.
What Is Sovereign Immunity and How Does It Work?
The majority of government agencies, including both the federal and state governments, possess immunity from lawsuits. In essence, this means that the government entity cannot be sued in a court of law. When applied to state and federal governments, this legal concept is referred to as sovereign immunity. When applied to county, city, or smaller government agencies, it is referred to as governmental immunity; however, sovereign immunity is often used as a catch all term for both.
In general, a public school is classified as an agent of a community’s municipal government. Although immunity exists, most governmental agencies offer exceptions to this immunity principal and can be legally sued under specific sets of circumstances. However, there does exist narrow constraints. For example, the negligence that occurred must be classified as “gross”, or a specific municipality must have purchased a specific form of insurance that covers the type of personal injury lawsuit. In addition to the broad guidelines of insurance and gross negligence, the specific circumstances under which a victim can sue for injuries incurred on school grounds vary considerably from one state to the next. State governments establish the rules for when and how smaller agencies, like school districts, can be legally sued. Fortunately, these rules do not vary within a state itself.
Suing a Public School: Shorter Deadlines and Extra Steps
In addition to sovereign immunity establishing narrow constraints for suing a school or wholly preventing a lawsuit from being filed, there also exists shorter deadlines and additional steps when a government agency or school is the defendant in a personal injury claim.
Many states possess quite short statutes of limitations or time frames in which a plaintiff can file a personal injury claim caused by a government agency. These time frames generally range from six months to upwards of two years. Many states require a plaintiff to select and notify the defendant agency of their intention to sue and the details of the lawsuit within six months of the date the accident occurred. If this deadline passes without filing of notice of intention, then a lawsuit cannot be filed at all.
Negligence and Premises Liability
Cases involving premises liability are personal injury lawsuits based upon injuries and damages caused by hazards or defects that exist on school grounds. For example, slipping on a puddle of water in a bathroom would be an example of such a hazard. The rules of sovereign immunity might allow an injury claim for premises liability, but in general, such cases are allowed only if the hazard was created as a result of very negligent actions or if applicable insurance is carried by the school itself. In some states, there will exist sovereign immunity rules that prevent such lawsuits altogether.
The most common negligent claim filed against public schools is negligent supervision. In other words, if an employee of the school had performed their job correctly, the injuries a child suffered would have never occurred in the first place. Usually, premises liability and negligence personal injury claims are treated similarly under the rules of sovereign immunity. Simply put, unless an employee was grossly negligent in failing to supervise their charges properly or applicable insurance exists or some other form of highly negligent actions occurred, suing a public school for damages is probably not going to be a likely option.
Obtaining A Settlement In These Cases
If a public school appears to be protected by sovereign immunity, there will be no settlement offered in a personal injury claim. However, the rules governing sovereign immunity are quite complex, and neither party in a lawsuit can be 100% confident that a court will reaffirm the sovereign immunity of a school. If a case’s specific facts create the likelihood of sovereign immunity being applied, but are not wholly clear, a public school may offer a settlement in a reduced amount in order to avoid the risks associated with liability.
If a public school does possess applicable insurance, then the likelihood of obtaining a settlement is far greater, providing that the claim is not frivolous. As aforementioned, most states do not grant immunity to municipalities if the municipality in question possesses insurance. This ensures that the school named in a lawsuit has the financial means to pay a settlement, but there is also a distinct possibility that they run the risk of losing what could amount to a very expensive lawsuit.
However, you should bear in mind that even if a plaintiff is legally allowed to file a personal injury lawsuit against a school because of gross negligence or insurance, if the proper deadlines are not met and procedures followed, then the lawsuit cannot move forward, and the school district will not see the need to offer a settlement.
Contact an Experienced NH Personal Injury Lawyer Today
In New Hampshire, filing a standard personal injury lawsuit is a complex process in and of itself; however, when the suing of a government entity is involved, the process becomes infinitely more intricate. In such cases, you will need the guiding hand and legal expertise of an experienced New Hampshire personal injury attorney. This is where our lawyers can step in to offer their assistance.
If your child has been injured by gross negligence on the part of their school, please contact our law offices today. We will evaluate the merits of your case and recommend an appropriate course of action, and of course, we will dedicate ourselves to obtaining the settlement needed to compensate for your beloved child’s injuries.
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