Is a School in New York Liable When a Student Trips Another Student at School?

Recently, in Ontario County, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, a 14-year old student of a public middle school didn’t go home at the end of the school day. Instead he ended up in a hospital getting plates and screws installed to fix a severely broken elbow. How did that happen? A fellow 14-year old student, who was just “goofing around”, tripped him in the school hallway when they were changing classes between periods. This was not the first time this student had injured other students. He apparently had a history of rough play.

The parents might ask a school accident lawyer the following questions (I will answer them further down): (1) can the injured child (and his parents) sue the boy’s parents? After all, they failed to properly raise this kid to be a civilized human being who can live safely with others. (2) Can they sue the tripping kid? (3) Can they sue the school?

Here are the answers, in order:

(1) No, they can’t sue the parents. Generally parents are not liable for the negligence or careless actions or even the assaults of their children, at least when the parents are not present to control them.

(2) Yes, the tripping victim and his parents can sue the child that tripped him. But there is a problem: a 14-year old child is unlikely to have any money, so why bother suing him? Answer: There may be insurance coverage. There is one place in particular you can look to find it If the child’s parents own their own home, they probably have homeowner’s insurance, which usually provides insurance for the negligent actions of all resident relatives of the home, including children. In my experience, such a policy often has $100,000 in coverage. If the parents rent and don’t own their home, it is unlikely they will have insurance to cover the incident, but it is still possible. Some renters have “renter’s insurance”, which sometimes has coverage similar to homeowner’s insurance.

(3) Yes, they can sue the school (actually, the “school district”) on a legal theory called “negligent supervision”. When you drop your child off at school, the school legally assumes the supervisory duties of “parent”. The arguments would be that: (1) The school should have placed a monitor in the hallway (if there had been such a monitor, the kid would probably not have dared to trip) and (2) the school should have been especially vigilant of this child who had a tendency to hurt other children.

New York law generally provides a legal remedy for victims of the negligence or wrongdoing of others. A competent personal injury lawyer knows who to bring the claim against, what “legal theories” to sue under, and also where to find insurance coverage. If your child is injured at school, consider consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer about your possible legal remedies.

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