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Understanding Legal Issues in Public Schools

Suing a school, like most other legal issues, is not a clear-cut process. There are many obstacles to a successful case against a Florida school or school district. These challenges, like proving negligence, apply to every personal injury case. But when it comes to suing a school, there is one major hurdle that lies in the way: sovereign immunity.

Public schools have an obligation to keep your children safe and to protect them from bullying and breaches of privacy. This is not always an easy task, as anyone who has ever been in charge of more than one child knows. However, if a school or teacher is negligent in their duty to your children, and they are injured as a result, you can and should take action.

Bullying and Cyberbullying

When most people think about an injury, they often imagine physical injury, but this is not the only form. Children and adults alike can be emotionally injured just as easily as they can be physically injured. Often, the most dangerous place for your children psychologically is their school. As any parent knows, children can be mean. When another student (or even a teacher) crosses the line between harmless fun into damaging bullying, you may have a negligence case.

  • Bullying is a verbal or physical behavior that intends to intimidate or harm another student. Bullying may take the form of:
  • Scrutinizing or harassing a person about their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Spreading rumors that are untrue or meant to harm or defame another student.
  • Physically harassing another student by intimidating them, hurting them, or making them physically unsafe in any way.
  • Disseminating explicit or nude photos of another student.

These days, bullying is just as common as it’s ever been, if not more so. According to StopBullying.gov, one in two children in grades 4 through 12 reported being bullied in the last month.

Cyberbullying

These days, technology not only makes it easier for bullies to access their victims but often these advances have made the bullying more brutal. Social media has allowed bullies free access to their victim’s home. Smartphones have given the aggressor more tools to harass. Any bullying of this type, performed through a technological device, is known as cyber bullying.

Florida has put into place anti-bullying laws known as the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, which requires Florida public schools to take a stand against bullying and cyberbullying. If a school or school district ignores the bullying, allows it to happen, or doesn’t take the proper measures to prevent it, they may be violating these Florida laws. Depending on the situation, they may also be violating federal laws, such as Title IX or antidiscrimination laws.

If your child is being bullied or has been severely harmed by bullying, you must do something. Start by alerting the school to the activity. Then, work your way up the chain of command. Document this process along the way. If the injury or situation is severe enough, consider contacting a personal injury attorney.

Injuries during School or School Activities

Just like any other property, injuries that occur at school can fall under premise liability law. This means that the school has an obligation to keep their school safe and free of any hazards. Children often partake in activities at school that could get them injured, like recess or sports. Most of these activities are not viable reasons to sue the school. However, if your student was hurt because of the school’s negligence, you may be able to file a claim against the school or school district.

Of course, if your child is physically injured because of bullying or a fight, you may also be able to file a suit against the other student’s parents.

If your child was injured in a school bus accident, the school, district, or even the driver may be liable. You may also be able to file a claim against the other vehicle’s driver if more than just the bus was involved in the crash. This and many other circumstances may provide a way toward full compensation for your child’s injury.

If your child has been bullied or injured at school, you may be able to file a claim or lawsuit against them. However, this is not as easy as it may be when dealing with private parties. This is because schools are protected by something called sovereign or government immunity.

Florida Schools and Sovereign Immunity

The federal government and all branches and agencies at the state, county, and municipal level are known as political subdivisions, which amongst other things, means that they have sovereign immunity.”

Sovereign immunity (sometimes called government immunity) is a form of protection that makes government entities and employees immune from lawsuits, except in specific circumstances. The idea comes from old English law that prevented citizens from bringing up lawsuits or criminal charges against their government. This is not to say, however, that one cannot successfully file a lawsuit against a school or other government entity; it is just difficult and must fit within certain parameters.

The main distinguishing factor that determines whether the school could be sued is whether or not the school’s actions were discretionary or operational. Basically, this means that if your student was injured doing some planned or sanctioned “operational” activity, the school is most likely not liable. However, if the harmful act was discretionary, meaning it was not a planned or sanctioned act, then there is room for possible compensation.

You Should File a Claim First

Florida requires that anyone who wants to file a lawsuit against a school district must first file a formal complaint. This complaint lays out the nature of the grievance and injury in writing and is filed with the clerk of court. Depending on the situation, there will be a very short period in which this can be done, often 30 to 90 days. This, of course, attempts to settle the situation without an actual lawsuit. Before you file a complaint against a school board, you should first contact a personal injury attorney for advice.

Dolman Law Group

If your child was injured due to the negligence of a Florida school, you may be able to collect compensatory and punitive damages. Call Dolman Law Group today for a free evaluation of your case. There is no cost to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney that specializes in civil trial cases. Collecting damages from a Florida school is difficult, but not impossible. Call us today at 727-451-6900.