My Child Was Injured at School in Columbia, Who is Responsible for the Negligence?

There is nothing more important than protecting the health and safety of your child. Unfortunately, children are always at an especially heightened injury risk. National Injury and Violence Prevention Resource Center reports that unintentional injury is the most common reason that children end up in the hospital. Considering the fact that children spend nearly 200 days a year at school, parents need to know what to do in the event that their child suffers a school injury. There are certainly many great schools throughout the Columbia region. In fact, the two largest high schools in the state, South Carolina Virtual Charter School and South Carolina Connections Academy are both in Columbia and Richland County’s two main school district now boasts more than 50,000 students. However, an injury could potentially occur at any school, no matter the quality. Children have a legal right to learn in a safe environment, and schools have a legal duty to provide children with such an environment. In the unfortunate event that your child has been seriously injured at school, you need to consult with an experienced Columbia personal injury attorney who can help you explore your legal options.

The Three Most Common Types of School Injuries

A child could suffer an injury at school in an almost endless number of ways. However, in the vast majority of cases, school injuries fit into one three broad categories. Most preventable school injuries occur because of:

  • Predatory or negligent action by school staff
  • Lack of supervision, leading to a child doing something they are not suppose to or to an attack from another child; and
  • Unsafe premises, such as damaged playground equipment or an unmarked slippery floor.

Regardless of how your child was injured, you may be able to take legal action against the school. Schools and teachers have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of all of the children in their care.

Understanding the Duties of Schools and Teachers

Schools districts, administrators, teachers and other school employees have a legal duty to protect your child. In South Carolina, a legal doctrine known as in loco parentis generally applies to school injury cases. Loco parentis is a Latin phrase that essentially translates to ‘in place of the parent’. Essentially it means that when you turn your children over to the school for the day, you are also handing over a large amount of parental-type responsibility. This grants schools and teachers both rights and responsibility for your children. A primary responsibility is simply ensuring that your child is kept safe. In the event that a teacher fails to live up to their duties to keep your child safe, they must be held accountable.

South Carolina School Injuries: Understanding Negligence

Loco Parentis defines the very basic duties of schools and teachers, but it can be difficult to apply that standard to real world cases. In order to determine whether or not a school bears liability for your child’s injury, a personal injury attorney will need to comprehensively review your claim to assess whether or not the school’s actions (or inactions) amounted to negligence. In the most simple terms, negligence is the failure to take proper care in a given situation. To establish negligence, you will need to prove each of the following four legal elements:

  • Duty: As we have established, there is no question that schools and teachers have a duty to look out for the safety of children. However, it is important to determine the precise extent of this duty. In making this determination, South Carolina uses the ‘prudent teacher’ standard. In essence, schools and teachers have a legal responsibility to provide the same level of care as an ordinary prudent teacher would have provided in a similar situation.
  • Breach: Once you are able to establish the existence of the standard of care, you will need to prove that the school or teacher deviated from that standard. This can occur in numerous different ways. For example, imagine that your child was seriously injured by another student on the playground during recess. If, upon investigation, it is determined that your school employs 66 percent fewer personnel to supervise the kids during recess than does the average similarly situated school, you may be able to hold the school liable for your child’s damage. If the school had employed an adequate number of supervisors, that injury may never have happened.
  • Causation: You must also prove that there is a causal connection between the school or teacher’s breach of their duty of care and your child’s injuries. Simply proving a breach is not by itself not sufficient to hold a school liable.
  • Damages: Finally, you can only recover compensation for negligence if your child actually suffered real harm. This element is extremely important even in cases where your child’s injuries are clear and obvious. You will always need to prove the full extent of your child’s damages in order to recover the full compensation that is rightfully deserved.

Special Considerations for Child Injuries that Occur in Richland County Public Schools

It is important to note that public schools have sovereign immunity. This means that they are immune from lawsuits under the normal rules. The good news is that you still can still take legal action. In South Carolina, the legislature has passed the Tort Claims Act, which grants injured victims important rights. However, there are often some reduced time limits in these type of cases. In the event that your child has been injured at a public school in South Carolina, it is especially critical that you speak to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

Contact Our Columbia Office Today

You place a lot of trust in your child’s school and their teachers. They have legal duties to look out for the safety of your kid. In the event that they fail to live up to this duty, your child can suffer very serious injuries. At Joye Law Firm, our team is dedicated to protect the rights of injured children. If your child was injured at school, please do not hesitate to contact our Columbia office today to learn more about what our team can do for you.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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