Filing a claim against a public school and its employees can be an uphill battle. This is particularly true because of the doctrine of qualified immunity. In a Washington, D.C. injury case, if a plaintiff files a claim against government officials, the officials are generally immune from suit as long as they are performing “discretionary functions.” Discretionary functions generally involve an element of judgment or choice.
Local schools are afforded extremely broad protection. In general, local schools are protected from liability for conduct that does not violate clearly established constitutional rights at the time of the conduct at issue and that is not carried out in bad faith. If qualified immunity is established, it acts as an absolute bar to the lawsuit.
In a recent state appellate court opinion, the plaintiff encountered immunity as a bar to their case. According to the decision, the plaintiff was a high school junior at a military school and was caught plagiarizing her homework. She admitted that she violated the school’s honor code, and was given a punishment of ten hours of physical exercises, which had to be completed one hour each day. The full hour of exercises had to be completed or the day would need to be repeated.
On the first day, the student was told to perform physical exercises including running, lunges, and pushups. She struggled, cried, breathed heavily, and was in pain, but continued because she did not want to repeat the entire session. At one point, an instructor asked if she needed to see a nurse, and the student said she was trying to catch her breath. The next day, the student could not move her arms and ultimately sought treatment at a hospital. She was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition resulting from severe muscle breakdown, and hospitalized for ten days.
The student sued the school alleging negligence and violation of her civil rights. However, the state’s supreme court dismissed the case. The court found that the instructor’s actions were discretionary in this case. The court found that although the instructor was required to administer certain physical exercises from a list of exercises, the instructor was not told how to conduct or direct the exercises, or how long each exercise should last. The punishment session also varied depending on the instructor. Therefore, the court determined that the instructor’s actions were discretionary and the school was protected from liability.
Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Accident?
If you have been injured and are considering a lawsuit, get in touch with an experienced Washington, D.C. injury attorney. The personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen have decades of experience representing accident victims throughout the Washington, D.C. area. Our attorneys understand the complex issues involved in all types of personal injury cases, including Washington D.C. slip and fall cases. The dedicated advocates at Lebowitz & Mzhen take pride in advocating for the rights of victims and aggressively pursue compensation for our clients. To arrange a free consultation with an attorney, call Lebowitz & Mzhen toll-free at 800-654-1949 or contact us online via our website.