Schools Must Protect Your Kids. . . Up to a Point
Accountability is preached in nearly every classroom from the time your little one waddles off the bus to the day they hopefully graduate. While public schools might strictly apply this concept to their students, they are not so keen to apply it to themselves.
Your daughter is injured in a locker room fight. The school is aware that fighting occurs in the locker room. Your daughter’s head strikes the jagged edge of a locker causing significant injury. The public school knew for a number of months that the locker was in disrepair.
Is it possible to sue the school? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on whether your child and the circumstances of his/her injury fit into a recognized category.
The Law Protects the School System
Generally, governmental immunity protects the public school in such scenarios, but recognizes some exceptions:
” [Section] 52-557n abandons the common-law principle of municipal sovereign immunity and establishes the circumstances in which a municipality may be liable for damages. . . . ” This court has recognized an exception to discretionary act immunity that allows for liability when the circumstances make it apparent to the public officer that his or her failure to act would be likely to subject an identifiable person to imminent harm . . . . This identifiable person-imminent harm exception has three requirements: (1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm. . . . All three must be proven in order for the exception to apply.” (Citations omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)
Haynes v. Middletown, 314 Conn. 303 (2014).
In Haynes, the Connecticut Supreme Court clarified the “identifiable person-imminent harm exception” in a case similar to the scenario laid out above. The Court focused on the “imminent harm” prong:
A harm is imminent when “it was apparent to the municipal defendant that the dangerous condition was so likely to cause harm that the defendant had a clear and unequivocal duty to act immediately to prevent the harm.”
Does Our Locker Room Scenario Fit the Exception?
The plaintiff in Haynes presented evidence that:
- School had informed students not to wrestle in the locker room;
- School officials knew that horseplay continued in the locker room;
- The locker was in a dangerous condition;
- The locker had been in that condition for at least seven months;
- School officials had been in the locker room and observed the condition of the locker.
314 Conn. at 326. The Court concluded that the plaintiff had presented evidence that placed the injured student within the exception.
This is a fact intensive inquiry. Sometimes the public school will owe a duty to protect your son or daughter, and sometimes not. An experienced New Haven County attorney can guide you through this analysis.