SCHOOL YARD ACCIDENTS

Thousands of Canadian school children require emergency medical care each year following playground injuries. Many of these accidents occur while the child as at school. While playing in the school yard is often the highlight of the day for most kids, joyful play can quickly turn to painful tragedy when a child sustains a serious injury due to faulty equipment, negligent maintenance practices, or improper supervision by school officials.

Unlike accidents involving adults, often times seemingly minor injuries to children prove to be more serious than initially thought. This is especially true with respect to traumatic brain injuries, or concussions. A still-developing child or adolescent may face long-term cognitive and emotional consequences as the result of a “simple” playground injury. Such consequences are often compounded by the failure of school boards and school employees to promptly identify and treat injured students.

At the Preszler Law Firm, our experienced British Columbia personal injury lawyers can assist you and your child in seeking damages for school yard accidents caused or aggravated by a school administration's negligence. Like all property owners in B.C., school boards must exercise certain care in keeping their premises safe for all invited persons. This duty takes on a special dimension when it comes to children entrusted by their parents to the school. No parent should ever send a child to school fearing that the child will sustain a life-altering injury due to a preventable negligent act.

What is a School Board's Liability for Accidents?

Under the B.C. Occupiers Liability Act, all school boards in the province have a duty to “take care” that their property–including school buildings, school yards, and playgrounds–are “reasonably safe” for children and other invited guests. This duty of care extends to three things:

  • The condition of the premises;
  • Any activities that occur on the premises; and
  • The conduct of any third parties using the premises.

It is important to understand that the school board is not an absolute guarantor of your child's safety. Rather, the Occupiers Liability Act protects your children from unreasonable risk of harm arising from ordinary acts of negligence on the part of the school board or its employees. This means that you can hold a school board liable for damages if a teacher or schoolyard supervisor's negligence causes serious injury to your child. The board is not automatically liable for every injury that may occur to a child on the school's premises, however.

When determining a school board's negligence with respect to supervision, B.C. and other Canadian courts commonly look at what a “careful or prudent parent” would do when faced with a similar situation. This test was first articulated by English common-law courts in the 19th century. As the Supreme Court of Canada has explained, what constitutes “reasonable and prudent” supervision has “become somewhat qualified in modern times because of the greater variety of activities conducted in schools, with probably larger groups of students using more complicated and more dangerous equipment than formerly.” Nevertheless, the standard itself remains valid.

At Preszler Law Firm, we handle many types of cases in which a school board's failure to act in a “reasonable and prudent” manner is the key to understanding a child's injury. Here are just a few scenarios in which school officials may owe an injured child compensation:

  • Playground accidents. This is perhaps the most common type of schoolyard and school-related injury. Obviously, children fall down all the time while playing, but what caused the fall? Was it simply the result of kids running around too fast? Or was the child injured while using playground equipment installed and maintained by the school? If it is the latter, the Occupiers Liability Act may come into play.
  • Improper maintenance of school grounds. Remember, a school board is responsible for the condition of its entire property, not just playgrounds. For example, if your child suffers injuries in a slip-and-fall accident on an icy sidewalk while going from the bus into the school building, the school board may be liable. All premises owners must identify known (or reasonably expected) hazards and take prompt action to correct the problem. This includes making sure sidewalks and entrances are properly cleared of snow and ice, particularly during harsh B.C. winters.
  • School bus accidents. The school day really begins when your child gets on the bus. A school board's legal duty of care includes any time spent transporting students to-and-from the school premises. Even when the board subcontracts the actual transportation to a third-party company, the school district itself can still be held liable if the children are injured in a bus accident.
  • Field trip accidents. Along similar lines, a school board is also responsible for its students' safety when taking them on a field trip or other school-authorized outside activity. Here, once again, the “careful or prudent standard” applies. Contrary to popular belief, just because the school asked you to design a permission slip or consent form, that does not waive your right to sue if your child is injured due to negligence. Permission slips are not considered legally binding in B.C., and they are in practice little more than a warning of potential risk.

Why Do I Need to Speak with a School Yard Accident Lawyer?

If your child is injured on school property, the first thing you should do–aside from making sure your child receives proper medical attention–is to consult with a qualified B.C. personal injury lawyer. Speaking with a lawyer does not mean you are looking to “make trouble” for the school board. The law in this area is quite complex, and it is a good idea to have an experienced lawyer review your child's case and advise you on the appropriate legal steps to take next.

Schoolyard injury cases are highly fact-specific. Even the “careful or prudent” parent standard is subject to change based on the parameters of a given situation. Let's say your child was injured while playing a game during recess with her friends. You think the school district was negligent in not properly supervising the kids–or even allowing them to play the game in the first place. Do you have a legal case? The answer to that question may depend on dozens of factors.

For instance, have other children been previously injured while playing the same game? If so, and the school knew this, then that would support your argument the district was negligent. But if there were no prior injuries, and the game itself was not unusually risky, that could support the school board's defence that it did nothing wrong.

As for injuries caused by defective playground equipment or other hazardous conditions on school property, a B.C. judge will not simply take your word–or your child's word–that there was a defect. You will need to present expert testimony from professionals who understand the type of equipment or hazard at issue, as well as the relevant safety standards. In effect, you must be able to reconstruct your child's accident for the court.

All of this takes time, and B.C. imposes strict time limits on bringing personal injury claims. So, the sooner you engage a lawyer to work on behalf of you and your child, the more time you will have to conduct a proper investigation. Beyond that, engaging a lawyer early in the process sends a strong message to the school board that your child sustained a serious injury. Many times, this can lead to a prompt settlement, avoiding the need for litigation altogether.

What Compensation is My Child Owed?

Even where a school district acknowledges liability for a child's injuries, there may still be an extended contested proceeding over the issue of damages. Quantifying damages can be difficult, especially when there is a traumatic brain injury or a similar trauma that affects your child's long-term development. Your child's long-term prognosis may be not be immediately understood, even by a doctor, and even when the physical injuries are healed, the psychological damage may persist into adulthood and beyond.

In calculating a fair measure of damages, some of the considerations will include your child's past, present, and estimated future medical expenses; the effect of the injuries on the child’s future ability to attend college and obtain meaningful employment; the costs of modifying your home or providing additional rehabilitative care; and of course, your child's ongoing pain and suffering.

This can be a lot to deal with, especially when you are focused on just making sure your child gets better. The Preszler Law Firm can help by taking the pressure of dealing with the legal issues off of your plate. We understand just how traumatic a schoolyard injury is to you, your child, and your entire family. This is why our only focus is on working to make sure your child receives appropriate compensation. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a no-obligation consultation today. Preszler Law Firm works exclusively on a contingency basis, so there is no financial obligation on your part unless we obtain a settlement or judgment in your favour.