Who is legally responsible when a student injures or kills other students at school?
A frightening situation recently unfolded in Albuquerque, New Mexico when threats were made in two different area high schools. Police were alerted to threatening posts made on social media as the perpetrator threatened harm to students and staff at an upcoming school assembly. Authorities investigated the posts and increased police presence at the two potential high schools involved during the assemblies. Fortunately, no violence occurred, but the entire situation brought to light the always-present possibility of school violence. Our Rio Rancho, New Mexico wrongful death attorneys explore the complex issue of liability for school violence below.
School Violence Defined
School violence can include any violent acts that have a negative effect on students and schools. Common instances involve bullying, use of weapons, fighting, cyberbullying, and gang violence, when these acts occur on school property or at a school-sponsored event. It is unclear just how often it occurs nationwide due to the lack of public reporting systems. Horrific shootings like those that happened in Parkland, Florida and Newtown, Connecticut represent perhaps the most atrocious violence that can occur on campus.
When violence occurs at school, it creates complex issues of liability. This typically involves minors and schools are often protected with some sort of immunity laws if they are public. Nonetheless, there have been some cases that have defined who may be liable when these acts of violence happen. At times, the school district itself can be held accountable. Schools, after all, have a duty to protect their students. They must take steps to prevent violence and halt known violent acts from occurring on campus.
School violence cases in which the plaintiff attempts to hold the district accountable will often turn on the issue of foreseeability. The court will consider whether the school should have foreseen this type of violence happening. Even with the harm foreseeable, the plaintiff will still need to meet certain requirements to overcome issues of immunity if the school is public.
Alternatively, a plaintiff may attempt to hold the violent student and/or their parents accountable for the act of violence and ensuing damages. These lawsuits will also be quite complex as the plaintiff will need to prove that the parent should be held civilly liable for their child’s bad acts. Any parent of a child who has been physically or emotionally harmed by violence at school will want to consult with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
Posted in: Wrongful Death