Injuries at School

“My daughter was injured playing softball at school.  She broke her ankle and needed a rod and pins inserted in her leg to repair it. Can she sue the school?”

Injuries incurred while engaging in recreational activities may lead to a successful claim against the school.  But while playing any sport, every particpant assumes that she or he will be subject to some risk that is not present in the classroom. The question of school liability comes down to handling the risk in the best way possible.

The standards for school conduct are different if the activity occurred during school hours in a physical education class versus an interscholastic competition. Besides seeing if written safety policies were followed, the court would have to look at the equipment involved (was it certified by the National Operating Commttee on Standards for Athletic Equipment?). Were the parents fully apprised of all the risks? How much training and experience did the coach have? Was the coach ever evaluated? Were there any prior complaints about the coach? If the safety equipment was certified, did the athlete have adaquate training so she knew how to use the equipement? Did the athlete have proper training to avoid injury? Was the athlete in good physical condition so she could avoid injury? Was the school equiped to render medical assitance so as to avoid further injury to the athlete?

There are many more areas of inquiry depending upon the cirmstances. Without spending more time discussing specifics, it is impossible to determine if the school was liable.

A Tale of Crossing Guards

“My child was struck by a car while walking home from school.  Shouldn’t the City also be responsible for the accident as well as the driver of the car that struck my child for failing to provide crossing guards so children can get home safely on busy New York Streets?”

As with most questions presented, the answer really lies with the details of the accident if the City is negligent for failing to provide crossing guards. The lead case with crossing guard accidents is probably Florence v Goldberg, 44 NY2d 189 (1978).  This was a 1978 case in which a jury found the City responsible for failing to replace a civilian crossing guard assigned to a busy Brooklyn intersection who called in sick.  The 6 year old plaintiff was struck walking home.  The key fact in the case was the intersection was protected by a crossing guard for the first two weeks of school.  The plaintiff’s mother accompanied the plaintiff for the first two weeks of school.  She then accepted a job after two weeks and relied on the crossing guard to help her child get home safely.

The Court found that the crossing guard created a special duty of the police to insure the child would get home safely.  But the Court repeated the rule that there is no general duty to insure citizens are never the victims of accidents or crimes. Municipalities have limited resources so they are not responsible for every act violating its citizens.  A mugging victim cannot claim the City should have had more of a police presence to prevent a crime from occurring.  Similary, if an adult was struck in that busy Brooklyn intersection, there would be no claim because there was no special relationship between the vicitim and the police force.  Similarly, if the young victim in the Florence case was injured by a bandit who beat the child up or by a friend who pushed him down, there would be no claim.  The civilian crossing guard was only there to insure safety against cars in the intersection, not against all tragedies that can occurr on a City street.

The question, as it is written, never states if the intersection in question was normally covered by crossing guards or not. If the intersection in question never had a crossing guard to begin with, then the City would not be responsible because no special duty existed bewteen the City and your child.

Negligent Supervision

“My child came home from school complaining of an injury to her shoulder that she said another girl at school gave her, can I sue the school?”

There are many issues this type of case brings up which are just not addressed in the question. Rather than highlight what is not known, I will attempt to outline the various claims a student could bring.

There are two sets of laws that could apply to this situation: federal and state law. A student could bring a claim based in federal law under Title IX of the Federal Civil Rights Law. The three claims this student could bring are for (1) erroneous outcome (2) selective enforcement and (3) deliberate indifference. To establish a claim for erroneous outcome, a plaintiff must show specific facts that cast doubt on the accuracy of a disciplinary proceeding.  A selective enforcement claim requires a showing that, regardless of the student’s guilt or innocence, the severity of the penalty and/or the decision to initiate the proceeding was affected by the student’s gender.  In order to prevail on a claim of deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show that a school’s response was clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.

There is a lot to explain, but given the lack of facts in the question, it is difficult (and very lengthy) to explain these concepts in abstract.

The state law claim would be for negligent supervision and would just not include the circumstances surrounding the incident in which the injury arose (for example, were there teachers present) but the care of the student following the incident (for example, did the student see a school nurse, was the parent notified, etc.).

I would respectfully suggest that it would be best to sit down and try to get the whole story before explaining all available claims.

One other warning to this claim: if the student is enrolled in public school there may be additional requirements for filing a notice of claim within 90 days after the incident and filing a summons in court within one year and 90 days.

Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Cases

“How long do I have to bring a court case if I am injured in an accident?”

This question is so general that there is not one answer. But the question itself refers to the idea that there is statute of limitations or a cut off date beyond which you cannot file a law suit against a wrongdoer.

So the answer is it just depends. Although generally negligence claims in New York must be brought within 3 years from the date of accident and 2 years for New Jersey cases. This answer does not come close to answering your question. An attorney would need to ask you how the accident occurred and who was involved before giving a complete answer.

For example, some municipal claims must be filed in court within 1 year and 90 days of the accident (some must be filed within 1 year), but before you can file a lawsuit, you must file a notice of claim within 90 days after the accident. So is the statute of limitations 90 days or 1 year and 90 days (or both)?

There is a three year statute of limitations in New York for which a person is injured in a car accident by a private person (not a government owned vehicle or employee). But in order to win such a case, you, as the injured person, must prove in court you are are hurt. That means you must go to the doctor and take necessary medical treatment to cure yourself (if such a cure is possible). But in order to receive medical treatment, your no-fault carrier (that is, a health insurance rider attached to every car insurance policy) must receive notice of the claim within 30 days after the accident. So is the statute of limitations 30 days or 3 years (or both)?

I hope you do not see this response as ducking your question, but if you are not confused enough, you may be able to extend some of these deadlines by “tolling” the statute of limitations. So without many more specific facts, it is impossible to answer the question.

Liability for Sidewalk in Need of Repair

“If I fell on a cracked and raised sidewalk in front of someone’s house, can I make a claim for my injuries against the homeowner?”

The answer to this question is no.  If you fell on a sidewalk in front of a one or two family house and not by a driveway, then the City of New York would be responsible for your injuries.  (The City is protected by a statute in such cases that requires prior written notice of the defect to the Department of Transportation. Without this written notice you may have no claim at all.)

If you have a claim against the City of New York, there are special rules you must follow to make a claim such as filing a notice of claim within 90 days after your accident.  You might also have to attend a municipal hearing and a physical examination by a City doctor before you can file a law suit.  Claims against City also have a statute of limitations of one year and 90 days.

If you fell on a broken sidewalk in front a home’s driveway, then you might also have a claim against the homeowner as well.  But, there are other factors that a lawyer would consider such as the location of the crack near any utilities and storm drains on the street.  Each case is different.

If you fell in front of business or apartment building, then you would bring a claim against the owner of the adjacent commercial property.