Can you sue if your child is injured at a Texas public school?

Bedford divorce attorney helping client at Fort Worth courtsPublic schools and their employees in Texas enjoy protection under Texas law from most injuries to the children they supervise. This means that even though schools are responsible for caring for your children during the school day they are generally immune if something happens to your children causing them injury. It is the general rule in Texas that the state is immune from lawsuits unless it chooses to waiver immunity. Let’s talk about what that means and why you might need to hire a personal injury lawyer in Texas to help you.

Texas Tort Claims Act and state immunity from lawsuits

In Texas and other states, the state is immune to most lawsuits under the old legal rule that “the king can do no wrong”. Sovereign immunity prohibits people from suing the state for negligence claims like car accidents or slip and fall injuries, unless the state agrees to submit itself to your lawsuit.

The Texas Legislature passed the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) which defines sovereign immunity and its waivers under state law. The Texas Tort Claims Act waives liability for certain personal injury claims involving public workers. The TTCA includes special provisions limiting school liability for negligence claims involving the use of a motor vehicle, such as a school bus.

The state is subject to other lawsuits and legal claims outside of the TTCA, such as employment discrimination lawsuits or lawsuits for police brutality. The Texas Tort Claims Act specifically addresses personal injury claims for negligence. If you or your child suffered injuries at school or involving a school vehicle, talk to a local personal injury lawyer right away about your case.

School immunity from lawsuits in Texas

There are several avenues to pursue claims against schools when their conduct causes harm to students or other people. Under the TTCA, school districts can be pursued for negligence claims only involving a motor vehicle. Negligence, however, is not the only way a school district can cause harm to a student.

What is a negligence claim against a Texas school

Negligence claims arise when a person or entity failed to act with reasonable care, causing injury to another person. Most personal injury lawsuits involve negligent acts, such as a car accident. The elements of a negligence claim include:

  1. The person or entity had a duty to act with reasonable care;
  2. That person or entity failed to act with reasonable care;
  3. Which caused injury to you; and
  4. That injury caused damages or losses.

Let’s use an example. A school bus ran a stop light and hits you while driving to work. A bus driver has a duty to drive with reasonable care and within the traffic rules. The driver failed to stop at the stop light as required. The driver’s failure to stop caused a crash with your car. As a result of the crash, you suffered bodily injuries. You then had medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering as a result of the injuries.

Excessive force and intentional harmful acts

The TTCA does not waive liability for intentional acts causing violence, going as far as specifically mentioning school discipline. (Section 101.057.) Texas school districts can be sued under federal law for civil rights violations resulting from excessive disciplinary acts. An intentional act involves a person or entity intended some act that caused injury to another person or property.

School districts can also face litigation under the same federal civil rights statute for failing to act when the failure arises from a policy.

Civil rights claims against government entities are extremely complex. If you believe your child suffered injuries at school, you should talk to an attorney experienced with civil rights claims right away.

Outside of the employee’s professional duties

Immunity only extends to the school district and its employees when performing official school duties. Teachers, coaches and staff do not have endless immunity. When a school district employee acts beyond the scope of their duties and cause injuries to a student, the employee may face liability for the employee’s negligent or intentional conduct. The school district may face liability under the Texas Tort Claims Act and other laws for participation, cooperation, or concealment of bad acts.

For example, a teacher who sexually assaults a student would not avoid liability because that conduct is far removed from the teacher’s job duties. Whether the school can avoid liability might depend on specific facts, but you can be sure the school will fight to avoid responsibility.

Hiring a personal injury attorney for a school lawsuit

Generally, outside of a car accident involving a school vehicle, it is difficult to successfully pursue an injury claim against a Texas school district. The Texas Tort Claims Act severely limits waivers of immunity. Texas courts often go to great lengths to avoid finding a waiver exists.

Successfully suing a Texas school district often requires looking beyond simple personal injury claims towards special statutes, federal law and avoiding many land mines. If your child suffered injuries at school, you should talk to a Texas personal injury attorney experienced with civil rights claims. In many cases your attorney will need to act quickly to preserve claims, so do not delay contacting law firms for a consultation.

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