Every day, we trust the Connecticut Public Schools with the welfare and safety of our children. Unfortunately, injuries can happen. Knowing what to do in response to a school injury and what you can expect is key.
First, make sure your child receives all appropriate medical attention. Recovery from the injury is of the utmost concern to any parent and the CT Injury Law Center wants to make sure your child makes a speedy recovery to return to school and activities.
In addition, you should document the injury. Make sure an appropriate accident report is filed with the school. Gather all medical records, bills, and insurance statements. Save a copy of any incident report, but do not sign any document from the school other than one just acknowledging receipt of an incident report. Make a list of witnesses and statements you have heard. Take photographs of any defective conditions.
Talk to a lawyer who understands school injuries. Bringing a claim against a school district and public school employees can be difficult. Recently, in Haynes v. Middletown the Connecticut Court of Appeals ruled against a student who was injured eight years ago in a locker room, cut by a locker with a jagged and exposed edge. The ruling, and the law, is counterintuitive–because the dangerous condition had been that way for months, the school was not liable.
Normally, in a premises liability case, the longer a defective condition exists, the more the property owner is deemed to have had sufficient time to learn about the situation and fix it. However, when suing a public school, it is important to recall that because the government makes the rules and is ultimately responsible to the entire citizenry, not just the injured person, it is not always legally responsible in the same way as a private actor. If a school employee has a low level job and is just charged with performing specific tasks in a specific way, then liability can attach for negligent performance of ministerial tasks. But, if someone has to make a decision about what to do, when to do it, how to do it, etc., then they are generally immune from suit for exercising their discretion; they are politically accountable to the public for bad decisions, but they are not legally liable. There is an exception, which was the crux of the Haynes case.
In Haynes, the who, what, where, when and how of fixing the locker involved decision making, i.e., a discretionary function. The government is not immune from suit when the identifiable person/imminent harm test is satisfied. As noted by the court,”To prevail on that exception, the plaintiffs had to prove imminent harm, an identifiable victim, and a public official to whom it was apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject the victim to that harm.” It is meant to require a government employee to take immediate action when it knows someone is about to get hurt. The Haynes family lost on the “imminent harm” question. The jagged edge had been that way for months. The school made a choice, purposely or by ignoring it, not to get it fixed right away, whether due to budget, or availability of repairmen, or need to keep the room in use, or otherwise. The harm was not imminent.
Speaking to a knowledgeable attorney is important. They can help you strategize how best to proceed with any claims that can be made, including a determination of who, other than a school employee, may be responsible, or help find a path to closure that does not take eight years.