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When a child is injured at school, who pays?

According to studies conducted by states’ departments of insurance, 10 to 25 percent of injuries to children under the age of 14 occur on school property or during school-related activities each year in America. Many injuries, of course, happen to elementary school-aged children, typically at recess or in gym class. Fortunately, very few of the injuries require more than a band-aid and soothing words by the school nurse. Too many, however, are quite serious and often result in trips to the hospital for emergency care. When a serious injury occurs on school property in Colorado, are the parents responsible for paying for medical care, or does the school assume liability for damages?

Liability depends on a couple of factors

The first question is to determine whether the accident was the direct result of another child’s, teacher’s or school employee’s actions. Colorado schools are required to operate under a code of conduct, which includes providing a safe environment for students in all grade levels through high school. If it can be demonstrated that the school failed to provide sufficient security to protect students from assault or battery by another person on the property, the school board may be sued for liability, including expenses for medical treatment and other financial costs directly associated with the injury, including possible punitive damages.

Most school injuries, however, are the result of carelessness on the part of the injured student. Schools are expected to monitor recess and other physical activity, but children cannot always be protected from themselves. Suffering a fall injury from playground equipment doesn’t always necessarily mean the school was negligent for placing the apparatus on the playground in the first place. When a child is injured because of his or her own carelessness, the parents may try to file a claim against the school’s insurance carrier, but should expect a strong defense. Proving negligence on the part of school personnel will be an important part of the injury claim.

Injuries due to sports and extra-curricular activities

It may be surprising to learn that the games played against other teams are actually relatively safe, despite the increased level of intensity. More than 60 percent of school sports injuries occur during practice. Sports activities, however, often result in the most serious types of injuries. In fact, 75 percent of spinal cord injuries suffered in school-related injuries occur during after-school sports events.

Despite signing a form waiving the right to sue the school or league for injuries suffered during middle school or high school sports, parents may still be able to seek damages if it can be shown that proper supervision was not provided during the practice or game, including lawsuits specifying rules (or lack of rules) that may have prevented the injuries.

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