In a typical week during the school year, many children will spend more time at school than they spend with their parents. Parents expect that their children will be properly and adequately supervised at a school or at a day care facility. Public and private schools, kindergartens, and day care facilities have a legal duty to take all reasonable measures to make sure that children stay safe and injury-free. But what if a child sustains an injury at a school or at a day care facility? How does the law determine liability for such an injury?

It starts by determining what is “proper and adequate” supervision, and that depends on the situation. Some children require more supervision than others. Some activities require more supervision than others. The bottom line is that the law offers no single, universal definition of “proper and adequate” supervision. A variety of elements come together to determine what level of supervision is needed at any particular moment. Those elements include the age, the experience level, and the known behavior of the child or children as well as the nature of the activity.

Every year, nearly four million children are injured at public schools or school events in the U.S. Eighty percent of children see a school nurse at least once while attending public schools. When a child is injured at school or at a school event, who has the legal responsibility? Again, it depends on the details and circumstances of the injury. A school district may or may not have liability or partial liability. In South Florida, when a child is injured at a school, a kindergarten, or a day care facility, an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney can examine the details of the accident and injury to determine legal responsibility for the child’s injury.

WHAT DOES PROPER AND ADEQUATE SUPERVISION ENTAIL?

Proper and adequate supervision by school personnel entails much more than simply taking reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of children during a sports activity or a field trip. That is only the beginning. The teachers and staff at schools, kindergartens, and day care facilities must constantly monitor and manage everything that immediately surrounds the children. Risks and potential threats to children must be constantly minimized or eliminated – whether it’s taking a dangerous toy from a child or calling the police about a suspicious stranger.

Thus, the most precise definition of “negligent supervision” is “a failure to provide adequate supervision under the circumstances.” If a child is injured because a school district, a kindergarten, or a day care facility fails to provide adequate supervision, the school district or other facility may have legal liability, which means that the child’s family may be able to sue and recover damages. The Florida Supreme Court has determined that “A public school, at least through the high school level, undoubtedly owes a general duty of supervision to the students within its care.”

ARE FLORIDA SCHOOL DISTRICTS PROTECTED BY SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY?

As you may know, government entities and agencies – including public school districts – are typically protected from personal injury lawsuits by a legal principle known as “sovereign immunity.” But in the state of Florida, sovereign immunity cannot shield a school district against a personal injury lawsuit when an injury is serious and the victim is a child. Public schools in Florida can and do get sued for negligence when a child sustains a personal injury at school.

According to one ruling by the Florida Supreme Court: “Florida courts have specifically recognized that a negligent failure to act in carrying out this duty of the school is actionable. The genesis of this supervisory duty is based on the school employee standing partially in place of the student’s parents. Mandating schools has forced parents into relying on teachers to protect children during school activity.”

Thus, sovereign immunity laws in the state of Florida limit the amount of financial recovery and set forth the procedures and rules for suing a school district, but there is no absolute immunity from the negligent actions of school employees. If a child is injured at a private school or a private day care facility, a personal injury lawsuit will be comparable in most ways to a lawsuit filed after a traffic collision. Most of the same rules and principles will apply.

CAN A CHILD BE HELD PARTIALLY LIABLE FOR HIS OR HER OWN INJURY?

Every personal injury claim must be assessed on its own merits. In the state of Florida, as a matter of law, a child who is under the age of 6 cannot be held liable or even partially at fault for a personal injury. Children between the ages of 6 and 18 may be held liable or partially at fault for a personal injury after a consideration of the child’s maturity, intelligence, experience, health, and other factors.

In the worst-case scenario – a child’s death – a family can be genuinely and permanently damaged because of a negligent lack of supervision. A 12-year-old Miami middle school student was playing at school with her friends in September 2007 when she hit her head on the side of a portable classroom and went into sudden cardiac arrest. In 2010, the family of Pateesha Clinch received a $700,000 wrongful death settlement after filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the Miami-Dade School Board.

But even if an accident or an injury at first seems insignificant, the child should be examined by a doctor as immediately as possible – school nurses simply can’t provide the complete medical exam that a child will need. Medical bills can add up quickly after a serious injury, so when children are injured because a teacher or a day care employee was careless, families are entitled under Florida law to full compensation for their injury-related losses and expenses.

If your child is injured in a South Florida public school, you might consider a civil lawsuit to recover damages – your family’s injury-related expenses and losses – from the school district. As mentioned previously, the family of a child injured in a South Florida public school will need the help of an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney because a number of complicated and sometimes-confusing rules and procedures must be followed to the letter when suing a Florida school district.