Injuries at school: Can you sue?
Parents send their children to school with a reasonable expectation that they will be as safe as they would be at home. However, accidents happen at schools with alarming frequency.
If your child is injured at school or during extra-curricular school activities due to negligence on the part of the school, you might be able to pursue compensation for your child's personal injury.
Serious injuries, including fatalities, occur regularly on school sports fields. For example, 54 serious rugby injuries were reported in between 2008 and 2011. Of these, over a quarter resulted in quadriplegia.
The safety of children while at school is covered under the basic rights in the Constitution and by the South African Schools Act.
Legally, schools are expected to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of the children in their care. Examples of such measures are barring access to dangerous areas, limiting access to the premises to authorised people only, installing railings where there are high drop-offs and ensuring ramps aren't slippery.
Schools are also responsible for monitoring children's activities while they're on school grounds.
There is a distinction between criminal action by a teacher or fellow student and a personal injury case.
For criminal action, such as abuse, theft or physical assault, a case must be opened with the police.
Any action the parents choose to take in order to prove that the school should have prevented the crime will constitute a civil case.
If it can be shown that a child was injured due to a negligent act or omission by a school, there are clear grounds for a personal injury case.
The most common causes of personal injury claims for injuries in schools include:
* Slip and fall accidents - for example, due to missing handrails on stairs or slippery floors.
* Playground injuries - for example, due to lack of supervision or faulty, dangerous or poorly maintained equipment.
* Sports injuries associated with insufficient adult supervision or poorly maintained equipment.
* Attacks by other students or outsiders, where reasonable measures weren't taken to prevent these.
* Food poisoning due to contaminated food prepared on the premises or from an outside vendor.
* Fights or bullying, with insufficient adult supervision or intervention.
* School bus accidents.
Where grounds exist for a personal injury claim, it’s possible to claim compensation for:
* Out-of-pocket medical expenses.
* Future medical costs - for example, for medication, therapy and equipment.
* Future loss of earning capacity, where it is shown that the pupil’s future working and earning potential has been diminished as a result of the injuries.
* Pain and suffering.
Claims may be brought against schools or the relevant education MEC.
It is worthwhile using an attorney to assist with personal injury claims. A reputable personal injury attorney with a medico-legal team can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings.
Kirstie Haslam is a partner at DSC Attorneys.