Can You Sue a School for Negligence?

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A teenage boy is being bullied at school by other teens.

First, we’ll need to know whether the school is public or private. Public schools are generally covered by sovereign immunity, a legal concept in which you cannot sue the government without its consent. However, the North Carolina state government has passed several pieces of legislation allowing the state to be sued under certain circumstances.

One exception to governmental immunity is when the school board buys liability insurance, which often waives their right to immunity. If your school has done so, we can seek damages directly from the insurance carrier.

In other situations where your child’s injury falls into an exception category, you may sue a public school if you can prove negligence. Please speak with an attorney to determine if this is the case.

If you want to sue a private school for negligence, sovereign immunity is not a problem, but you will still need to prove the elements of negligence:

  • The defendant (in this case, the school) had a duty of care (usually to the students, but possibly also to visitors on school grounds). For example, it would be reasonable to expect a school to maintain a relatively safe environment for students and guests.
  • The defendant breached their duty of care. The argument might be that the school failed to provide a safe environment in these cases.
  • The defendant should have known their actions could be dangerous or lead to injury.
  • This breach in the duty of care led to your or your child’s injuries. Your attorney will gather evidence to show precisely how the unsafe environment led to the injuries.
  • These injuries caused you (or your child) damages. Damages may include medical bills, permanent disability or disfigurement, or pain and suffering.

How Much Can You Sue a School for in Negligence Cases?

Once you and your lawyer have discussed the details of your case and agree that you have grounds for a lawsuit, you will need to consider your damages.

As mentioned in the previous section, there are different kinds of damages, and you and your attorney should talk about how much money you will request for each of these. It’s important to note that damages can be economic or non-economic.

Economic damages are somewhat less complicated to calculate because they usually come with a bill for a specific amount. For instance, let’s say your child was injured in an incident at school.

You receive a bill for $500 for your child’s care at the emergency room, $20 for their prescription, and $200 to replace their tablet damaged in the incident. An experienced school negligence lawyer will ask if your child is still receiving medical treatment, and if the child was seriously injured, your attorney would estimate future costs.

Non-economic damages are slightly harder to quantify because no one hands you a bill, yet you still suffer a loss. Physical or emotional pain and suffering are examples of non-economic damages.

Although it can be challenging to put a price on your child’s pain, a court can only award you financial compensation, so your attorney will help you figure out a reasonable amount to request for these damages.

How Can You Sue a School If Your Child Gets Hurt?

The first step is to contact a North Carolina personal injury attorney to discuss your child’s injuries. Your lawyer can help you figure out if the situation lines up with one of the exceptions to sovereign immunity that allows you to sue a public school.

If so, or if the school is private, they will ask about what happened and determine if you have a strong negligence case.

In some cases, your attorney’s questions may reveal that there are better remedies for your child’s damages. For example, sometimes schools allow their property to be used by private groups for various functions, such as parties, club meetings, or sports events unaffiliated with the school.

If your child was injured at such a function, the group that sponsored the event likely signed a contract with the school stating they would provide their own liability insurance. (Most schools will insist on these contracts.)

If this is the case, we will seek compensation from the sponsoring organization’s insurance carrier.

There may also be other individuals who are liable in some situations. For example, if a bully injured your child, you might be able to file a lawsuit against the bully (or, in most cases, their parents, unless the bully is 18).

However, lawsuits against individuals are not always reasonable solutions.

There is usually no relevant liability insurance policy, so if the bully and their parents can’t afford to pay a judgment, taking them to court might cost you time, money, and stress with little to no hope of actually recovering damages. Your lawyer will explain the possible benefits and risks of pursuing a claim in these circumstances.

What About the North Carolina School Boards Trust?

The School Boards Trust can be a confusing topic when we talk about schools and liability. Some people have heard that if their school is a member of the trust (and most boards of education in the state are), there is $150,000 in insurance coverage for potential liabilities.

The word “coverage” here is misleading because it doesn’t refer to insurance coverage and therefore doesn’t void a school’s governmental immunity. It’s simply “coverage” offered by the trust to each member, and it usually doesn’t apply in situations where students are injured.

Instead, this coverage is typically used for cases that don’t fall under governmental immunity, such as issues with employment claims or breach of contract.

Contact Tatum & Atkinson About Your School Injury

The laws involving schools and negligence are complex. If you or your child were injured and believe your school was negligent, contact Tatum & Atkinson: The Heavy Hitters for a free consultation.

We’ll advise you on whether you can seek compensation from the school. If not, we will explore other options, such as suing other potentially liable parties.

If we take your case, we won’t charge you any fees until we win or settle it, so please call 800-LAW-0804 today to find out your options.