The horrific events of last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County left 17 people killed and dozens of people wounded. It also left the community, the state and the nation reeling, once again trying to make sense of the whys and the hows and who should be held responsible. Most notably, this has sparked another heated debate over access to guns and Second Amendment rights. However, it’s also an important time to examine what duty of care schools, law enforcement officials and other government entities have in keeping students safe, and who should be held accountable when those measures fail or aren’t enough.
The Miami Herald recently reported that one 15-year-old student, shot five times in both legs, intends to sue Broward County and seek monetary damages to help cover the cost of his long-time recovery. The notice of intent to file a lawsuit names several entities, including the Broward County Public Schools, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the school resource officer who was on duty that day. In a briefly outlined statement, his attorney indicated actions by these entities and individuals failed to protect students (and this student in particular) from life-threatening harm, and further were unreasonable, callous and negligent. He asserted the defendants’ actions/ inaction were the proximate cause of plaintiff’s serious and lasting injuries.
Now, we must pause here for a moment to explain because it is a seemingly foreign concept that someone other than the person firing the shots could be legally responsible for the attack. Within the criminal justice system, absent any evidence of collusion or conspiracy, that is probably true. However, within the civil justice system we are looking at anybody who owed a duty of care to the person who was hurt, whether those duties were breached and whether those breaches allowed the perpetrator the access and opportunity to carry out his plots. Continue reading →