Given that school is where students spend roughly a third of their day, it’s no wonder it is the site of many injuries. School districts can be successfully sued for negligence resulting in child injury, but cases must overcome assertions of sovereign immunity, damage caps and denial of duty owed.
The kinds of injuries for which schools may be responsible include playground injuries, sports-related injuries, bullying-related injuries, school bus accidents or general premises liability injuries related to dangerous conditions on school grounds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate the cost of playground injuries alone in the U.S. is $1.2 billion.
However, as the recent case of Halvorson v. Sweetwater County School Dist. reveals, these cases may be fraught with challenges for plaintiffs. That’s why having an experienced injury lawyer is critical.
The Halvorson case was one that went before the Wyoming Supreme Court, though the same general principles of negligence are applicable here in Florida as well. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the school district after she slipped and fell in a locker room. She alleged district negligent failed to operate and maintain its shower facilities in a reasonably safe condition.
At the time of the incident, plaintiff was an eighth-grader and was required to take a swim class as part of her curriculum. On the fourth day of the school year, just after her swim class, she returned to the locker room to shower and dress. While crossing the floor to borrow a friend’s comb, the girl slipped and fell. She was later diagnosed with disc herniation and had to undergo three surgeries as a result.
In her negligence lawsuit, plaintiff asserted the water from the shower area built up and overflowed in the dressing area due to improper drainage.
The defendant school claimed it owed no duty of care because it didn’t have notice of an unsafe condition and further the student assumed an inherent risk of swimming when she was injured. (Florida’s slip-and-fall statute, F.S. 768.755, requires plaintiffs to prove defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken some action to remedy it.)
During a bench trial, the court rejected plaintiff’s assertion of flooding in the locker room area because, logistically, it would have been severe if the drainage was as plaintiff asserted. Witnesses indicated there was 1 to 2 inches of standing water in the shower, and plaintiff asserted that because of the sloped floor, that water drained down into the locker room area. However, the court found that by that logic, flooding would have been more severe in the locker room area (due to the shape and configuration of the room) and no witness attested to the flooding being that severe.
Further, the court ruled defendant did not have actual or constructive notice of an unsafe condition in the locker room. While the court rejected the school’s argument that slipping and falling in a locker room is an inherent risk of swimming, it found plaintiff could not prove the condition of the locker room was unreasonably dangerous.
Plaintiff appealed the finding in favor of the school.
The state high court affirmed, finding there was no evidence to support the assertion that the school failed to ensure the floor was not unreasonably dangerous and there was also no substantial evidence introduced indicating the locker room drainage system was inadequately designed or constructed.
Cases like this require extensive research and sometimes will call for expert witness testimony.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Halvorson v. Sweetwater County School Dist. , Feb. 4, 2015, Wyoming Supreme Court
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Myers v. City of West Plains – $425K Child Injury Verdict Upheld, Feb. 5, 2015, Broward Injury Lawyer Blog