For Chicago area students, school is about to begin or already has.
A really common call that I get is from a parent who has a child that has been injured at a school. Most of these calls go nowhere, not because there isn’t negligence or an injury, but because to sue a public school in Illinois you have to show “willful and wanton neglect.” In plain English that means that general negligence isn’t enough to win, but instead you need to show that the school did something intentionally or with reckless disregard. See if you can figure out which one of the following would be a lawsuit against the school:
- A food fight breaks out in the cafeteria. One minute in to it a 5th grade girl gets hit in the eye with a cheeseburger and goes blind.
- The gym teacher, who has no criminal record, is caught making out with a freshman girl after he gave her beer.
- A group of boys is playing football at recess. One of them is running for a pass and falls, landing on broken glass in the field and cuts up his face.
- First graders at recess are on the monkey bars. The bar breaks and a boy falls, breaking his arm.
- In class, two kids get in a fight. One of them throws a chair that hits and injures a student that had nothing to do with the fight.
- In the varsity football game, a player is pushed out of bounds in to a brick wall that is three feet from the sideline and is paralyzed after his head hits the wall.
- The teacher asks a student to deliver a note to the office and while walking there, the student slips on a wet floor and breaks their leg.
- A little girl dies when she was running in gym and had an asthma attack.
In my opinion, none of these cases except number six would be likely to result in a successful lawsuit against a public school. With the caveat that every case is different and I don’t want anyone relying on what I’m saying here in order to make a final decision (aka, lawyer disclaimer), here’s why:
- There is no way that the school could have seen this coming.
- Believe it or not, unless a school has notice that a teacher is doing these types of things or has a background of doing it, the school can’t be held responsible for a molestation by a teacher.
- Unless the school knew there was glass there and refused to clean it up, this case has no chance.
- Similar to #3, you’d have to prove that the school knew of a problem with the bars and chose to ignore it.
- Doesn’t meet the standard because the teacher is not involved in the fight. If they let it go on for a while or it happened day after day it might be a different story.
- This actually happened and the school settled because it could be said that having kids play football that close to a brick wall (the actual case might have been a fence) was reckless disregard for their safety.
- Certainly negligent, but not reckless disregard here or an intentional act.
- Unless the girl was saying that she couldn’t breathe and the teacher forced her to run anyway there would be no reckless disregard.
Now, doesn’t that get you excited for the school year? This is all a result of Governmental immunities. Basically the State says that if it’s publicly run then you have less rights. They would never do this for a private business, but this is a classic case of do as I say, not what I do.
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