What is a school's responsibility for a serious personal injury? 31 Answers as of July 12, 2013

My 16 year old daughter is a Sophomore and taking her first high school PE course. Because she'd missed school earlier in the year for illness, she's been working very hard to make up all available assignments and earn any extra credit possible. Her PE teacher (who has continually told my daughter she needs to "try harder" and warned her that her grade suffers due to "lack of participation") offered the class extra credit for trying the "high hurdles", even though most of the class had little-to-no experience with hurdles at all. My daughter tried to do them, tripped over the first one and broke her tibia and bruised/broke her femur. Now she's got to have surgery, and while we have insurance, we're still looking at co-pays/deductibles/20% of the surgery cost and anything the insurance won't cover coming out of pocket. Should the school be covering some of the cost?

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Michael Anthony Wing, P.C.
Michael Anthony Wing, P.C. | Michael Anthony Wing
Potentially. That is kind of a niche area of law. Contact your local bar association for a referral to a lawyer who has experience in litigating against school. Stay well.
Answer Applies to: Alabama
Replied: 6/24/2011
Theodore W. Robinson, P.C.
Theodore W. Robinson, P.C. | Theodore W. Robinson
Potentially yes, however, it will depend upon a lot of factual issues that must be resolved. Consult with a negligence lawyer and see if they will take you daughter's case. That will be the first stumbling block and after that whether they can identify any negligence on the part of the PE teacher when dealing with inexperienced teens. Good luck.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 6/17/2011
Law Offices of Steven A. Fink
Law Offices of Steven A. Fink | Steven Alan Fink
School and teacher definitely have some responsibility. They should have a claim form for you to submit. If principal does not have it, check with the Board of Education.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 6/17/2011
The Law Office of Josh Lamborn, P.C.
The Law Office of Josh Lamborn, P.C. | Josh Lamborn
There is certainly an argument to be made that the teacher was negligent in "goading" your daughter into doing something which he or she should have known she was incapable of doing. Most likely the school will not pay for the medical bills because they do not want to appear to be admitting fault. You can certainly ask them to do so. However, you will probably have to hire an attorney to threaten to file a lawsuit to recover damages.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 6/16/2011
Rose, Senders & Bovarnick, LLC
Rose, Senders & Bovarnick, LLC | Paul S. Bovarnick
The school has an obligation not to carelessly place your daughter in a position where she might predictably be hurt. If she was hurt because of the school's negligence, then she may be able to recover money for her medical bills, pain and suffering and future medical bills. However, if this is a public school then there may be special rules for making a claim. You should talk to a lawyer in your area about your daughter's injury as soon as possible.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 6/16/2011
    David Hoines Law
    David Hoines Law | David Hoines
    You may have a claim. I would need more information.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 7/12/2013
    Daniel Hoarfrost, Attorney at Law
    Daniel Hoarfrost, Attorney at Law | Daniel Hoarfrost
    The issue is whether the instructor was negligent in allowing her to try the high hurdles, or whether there was something inherently dangerous about the equipment or the track. Odds are that you wouldn't be able to show either of those circumstances.Nevertheless, the school insurance may well have some "medpay" coverage that would help you with your bills.You should contact the school administration and inquire about that.Also, if you want to pursue an actual claim, you'll need to put the school on notice, in writing, within 180 days of the injury.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 6/16/2011
    David F. Stoddard
    David F. Stoddard | David F. Stoddard
    This is not a case where liability is absolute. There are cases where liability is so clear, we call it absolute. One example is where a car rear ends another, or runs a red light, striking another car. In most such cases, liability is clear or absolute and the only question is how much are the damages. It is difficult to get a school or business to pay medical bills were liability is not clear without filing a lawsuit. Schools are not liable for most injuries that occur during sports activities. You would have to show that the school was somehow negligent in setting up and supervising the activity. You would probably need an expert witness to give an opinion that having a student attempt hurdles without some training or prior testing to ascertain the student's ability is negligent and poses a danger. There are experts in the field of sports and physical education. I cannot say whether this as negligent as I am not such an expert. If you know a track coach from another school, you might ask if what the teacher did violates safety principles for this activity to get an idea if the teacher was negligent. My guess is that it wasn't negligent because even good hurdlers will occasionally trip over the hurdle an fall. Falling is an inherent danger in this activity as it is in most sports. Now, if your daughter has some medical condition of which the teacher was aware that makes it more likely to fall, or more likely that she would break her leg if she fell, this might create liability. If your daughter has no permanent impairment as a result of the injury, it is probably not worth looking into as the cost of going to trial may exceed your portion of the medical bills. By the way, I am assuming that the school has no insurance to cover this type of injury in cases where they would not be liable in court. This is often called "Med Pay" insurance. You may want to check into whether they have such insurance.
    Answer Applies to: South Carolina
    Replied: 6/16/2011
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC | Timothy J. Klisz
    While suing a school is difficult, with government immunity, it can be done and this sounds like the case to investigate further. I would be happy to discuss the matter with you.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/16/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    You should definitely consult with a lawyer to look into this in more detail. Let me warn you right off the bat, that in order to sue a school district under New York Law you first must file a Notice of Claim within ninety days of the accident. So waste no time in consulting with an attorney. Basically, if the PE teacher should have known that you daughter was not fit enough or possessed of enough talent to attempt the hurdles, then the teacher and the School District might be liable for all costs of treatment and for conscious pain and suffering sustained by your daughter. The District probably also has medical payments coverage which should pick up some of the costs of treatment. You should definitely consult with an attorney. I can help you find one anywhere in the Country if you are unable to. I am only admitted to practice in New York State and cannot practice law myself in any other State. All claims have time limits. In new York they are, general: three (3) years for personal injury and property damage actions, two and one half (2 ) years for medical malpractice claims, two (2) years for wrongful death, one (1) year for an intentional wrongdoing, six (6) years for contract claims, but four (4) years for sales of goods under the Uniform Commercial Code, and four (4) months to challenge an action or decision of a government body, department or agency. However, in a claim for personal injury or property damages, if any person or entity at fault is affiliated with a municipal or other government department, agency or facility, then you may be required to file a notice of claim within ninety (90) days and then commence a lawsuit within one (1) year and ninety (90) days, but sometimes within one (1) year. These time limits have exceptions. Never sit on your rights!
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    E. Ray Critchett, LLC
    E. Ray Critchett, LLC | Ray Critchett
    Due to the serious nature of your daughter's injury, you may want to schedule an appointment with an attorney to look into this further. Schools are frequently provided with immunity for certain actions but they can be held responsible for their actions, depending on the facts of the case. I believe the nature of your daughter's injuries warrant further investigation/research.
    Answer Applies to: Ohio
    Replied: 10/25/2012
    Patrick M Lamar Attorney
    Patrick M Lamar Attorney | Patrick M Lamar
    I believe the school district itself is immune from suit. The individual teacher can be sued but recovery would be limited.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Law Office of Mark J. Leonardo
    Law Office of Mark J. Leonardo | Mark Leonardo
    I suggest you file a tort claim with the school district (assuming its a public school). Call the district office and ask for the form. This must be filed within six (6) months from the date of the injury or you will have forever waived your right to make a claim. There are a few exceptions and you would need to speak with an attorney if it has been longer than six months. If they reject your claim, you then have the right to sue the school. This will be a difficult case because unless there is gross negligence on the part of the school or a staff member, they are generally immune from liability for getting hurt in a sports activity.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A.
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A. | Paul L. Whitfield
    Question is always what is reasonable. If what the coach did was unreasonable and the kids had no proper training or instruction, then perhaps yes. But you must understand that kids sometimes get hurt on the playground. I ran low hurdles when I was in high school and if I had fallen I don't think I would have thought the school was at fault. There is a certain element of risk in any sports activity and I am not sure the school system can guarantee that no one will ever be hurt.
    Answer Applies to: North Carolina
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    LT Pepper Law
    LT Pepper Law | Luke T. Pepper
    The school is responsible for covering the injury. As for a lawsuit, we would have to show the school was negligent in letting your daughter participate in that activity. Most likely there is no case because an argument can be made that they were being taught that sport as part of their class. Since the injury was incidental to participation in that activity, it would be a difficult case.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Bernard Huff, Attorney/Mediator
    Bernard Huff, Attorney/Mediator | Bernard Huff
    Due to the complexity of the injury involving your daughter and to determine whether the school is possibly liable, you need to set up an office conference and consult with a personal injury/accident attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Indiana
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Wilson & Hajek,LLC, a personal injury law firm
    Wilson & Hajek,LLC, a personal injury law firm | Francis Hajek
    Your personal injury law question is fairly complicated. Every state has different rules concerning school liability and there are even further differences on a county by county basis. A lot depends on what type of insurance the local school board purchases. Some policies have coverage for medical expenses. You should contact your school to see what help is available. You may also want to contact the school board's attorney. The potential for an injury claim under the facts you have provided does not appear to be great. Usually, gross negligence is required if a successful claim is to be presented. But again, every state is different and you should consult an experienced attorney in your area to determine what options you have.
    Answer Applies to: Virginia
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Goolsby Law Office
    Goolsby Law Office | Richard Goolsby
    I would urge you to contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the negligence issues raised here. Good luck!
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Kelaher Law Offices, P.A.
    Kelaher Law Offices, P.A. | James P Kelaher
    First, did you sign any kind of waiver before she participated in physical education? Second, just because she was injured at school does not make them responsible; if this was a typical activity in which all students participated, then I don't see how the school would be responsible. In order for the school to be responsible, they must be negligent, and negligence is legally defined as a failure to use reasonable care, either doing something a reasonable person wouldn't do or failing to do something a reasonable person would do. You can certainly call a personal injury attorney in your geographical area and see what they advise you. Most PI attorneys work on a contingent fee basis and shouldn't charge you anything for a consultation.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    The Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq.
    The Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq. | Bradley Kramer
    You may have a case, but I'd have to talk to you about it. I'm handling a very similar case against a private school right now.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC
    Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC | Lacy Fields
    The school may be liable. Whether or not the school is liable will depend on the specific facts of the case. I think you may have a case especially if there was no training, no demonstration, no spotting, no matts laid out, this type of thing has happened before, etc.
    Answer Applies to: Missouri
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Coulter's Law
    Coulter's Law | Coulter K. Richardson
    The short answer is yes. The school will have insurance but depending on the state, may require you to use your own personal insurance first and then the school's insurance carrier picks up the balance. Contact the school administrator. You may also wish to contact an attorney regarding what appears to be improper behavior on the part of the PE teacher-incentivizing a dangerous activity with little or no training.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Law Offices of Earl K. Straight
    Law Offices of Earl K. Straight | Earl K. Straight
    Claims against a school or school district are difficult in Texas, due to many immunities granted by statute. That said, there are some exceptions, and your case may fall into that category. The only way to know for sure is to sit down with an attorney experienced in these kind of claims and discuss your case in more detail.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Allen Murphy Law
    Allen Murphy Law | W. Riley Allen
    The school may have some medical payments insurance coverage available. Unless she was forced against her will, then there's not likely a claim there. A complaint about the teacher to the School Board could be warranted.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Ewusiak & Roberts, P.A.
    Ewusiak & Roberts, P.A. | Christopher J. Roberts
    Sorry to hear about your daughter's injury. It sounds like you may have grounds to ask the school to compensate you for the out of pocket expenses associated with your daughter's medical treatment, as well as the intangible (pain and suffering) damages suffered by your daughter. You should seek out a lawyer in your area to discuss the case. Most lawyers who handle this type of case (personal injury) will meet with you without cost, and they will work on a contingency fee basis meaning that you don't pay if they don't recover for you.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 2/21/2012
    Cary J. Wintroub & Associates
    Cary J. Wintroub & Associates | Cary J. Wintroub
    Unfortunately, probably not. Assuming this is a public school, unless the conduct of the teacher is deemed to rise to wilful and wanton conduct the matter is not actionable.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Rothstein Law PLLC
    Rothstein Law PLLC | Eric Rothstein
    Your daughter may have a suit for pain and suffering. Feel free to contact me. If its a public school there are prerequisites.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 6/15/2011
    Aronberg & Aronberg, Personal Injury Law Firm
    Aronberg & Aronberg, Personal Injury Law Firm | David T. Aronberg
    The school could be responsible for your daughter's medical bills and other damages. Do you know anything more about the gym teacher? Was there a history of kids getting hurt in this gym class? How high were the hurdles? These are just a few of the questions that I have. It would be much easier to talk to you on the phone about your daughter's case.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 7/12/2013
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