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When a Child is Attacked at School...Who is Responsible?

As reported in the New York Daily news, a 16-year-old high school student, Stephauan Powell, and his mother are suing Lehmann High School in the Bronx for $5.5 million in damages, claiming that the school and the Department of Education failed to protect the 16-year-old from intentional violence on school property. 

Stephauan Powell was slashed with a razor across his face and throat by another high school student due to bad blood between them. The student, despite the presence and use of metal detectors, was able to sneak the razor onto campus. Powell, who was blindsided by the attack, required 20 stitches on his face. Though Powell's attacker was charged with first degree attempted assault in the Bronx County Family Court, there is still the issue of the school's duty to protect its students from on-campus violence, harassment, and bullying. 

What is the School's Liability?

In a study discussing school liability in circumstances of wrongful death, serious injury, sexual harassment, and bullying on school grounds, a trend has been observed showing that schools have been winning the majority of the liability cases against them.

When students are injured at school, it is usually unintentional and accidental in nature. Though our media depicts the rising number of incidents of violence in school, a study shows that a child is nine times more likely to be injured accidentally at school than intentionally. The sampling of school negligence cases have showed that the prominent reason for districts winning favorable results (46 percent) has been due to government and official immunity. Forty-one percent of cases that were decided against the injured student were because they were unable to prove breach of duty of the school.

Elements to Establish a Negligence Case Against a School

When framing negligence cases that occur on school grounds, and more specifically with regards to intentional tort cases like the one here, in which one student has an intent to harm another, there are a few elements that need to be found before an injured student may be able to bring an action:

  1. The school, as well as its faculty, has a duty to protect its students. Teacher and other faculty members are trained to anticipate a variety of possible dangers, and part of the duty of protection is to vigilantly supervise the students within the perimeter.
  2. The school faculty must take reasonable steps to protect a student from anticipated dangers. This could mean keeping an eye out for troubled students or students who seem prone to violence and reporting them, or keeping an eye out for weapons or other harmful tools. For example, if the school knew or had reason to know that Powell and the student had bad blood between them, they should have taken reasonable steps to stop and hinder any confrontation.
  3. Proximate cause means that the student's injury was caused because a faculty member did not exercise a reasonable standard of care. With Powell's case, a teacher who may have known that there was bad blood between the boys did not take action to prevent the slashing, and therefore Powell's injury was a result of the teacher not acting to protect him from a known or foreseeable harm.
  4. There was an actual injury. In this case, Powell has 20 stitches to prove he has an actual injury. His mother's emotional trauma may be more difficult to show.

NYC Personal Injury Attorneys

If your child has been injured on school grounds, please contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys at Keogh Crispi, P.C. We serve clients in the New York City area, and we will be able to help evaluate whether your child's school was liable for his/her injuries. Please contact us for an initial consultation either by calling us at 212-818-0600 or by sending us a message online.

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