Washington, D.C. Schools May Be Liable for Students’ Injuries Occurring on Campus

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing the duty a high school owes to its students. The case presents an interesting issue for parents who have a child who was injured at school and are considering filing a Washington, D.C. personal injury case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured while she was using a table saw in woodshop class. Evidently, a piece of wood got stuck in the saw and the plaintiff attempted to free the lodged piece of wood with her hand. However, while trying to unjam the saw, the plaintiff’s hand came into contact with the saw’s blade. As a result of her injuries, the plaintiff’s thumb was amputated.

Apparently, at the time of the accident, the teacher was outside of the shop supervising other students. However, the teacher provided training to all students on how to use the table saw before allowing them to use the saw on their own. The teacher estimated that he watched the plaintiff make at least 60 cuts before the day of her injury.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the school. When it came time for the judge to instruct the jury on the applicable law, the plaintiff requested a jury instruction explaining that the school had a heightened duty of care to protect her from foreseeable harm. The school argued that it only owed the plaintiff a duty of ordinary care, and that her own negligence was the cause of her injuries. The court agreed with the school on both issues, and instructed the jury accordingly. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the school, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s rulings and the jury’s verdict. The court explained that while schools have a “special relationship” with their students, they only owe students a duty of ordinary care to protect them from foreseeable harms. This requires that a school take reasonable precautions to safeguard students against harms that can be reasonably anticipated. Thus, the court held that the court plaintiff’s proposed instruction was not required because it was a misstatement of the law.

The court then went on to discuss whether the school should have been permitted to argue that the plaintiff’s injuries were the result of her own negligence. The court explained that a defendant is typically allowed to argue a plaintiff was contributorily negligent, absent a few specific circumstances (i.e., claims involving sexual abuse of a student by a teacher). Here, the court held, none of those circumstances were present, and thus the school was properly permitted to argue the plaintiff was contributorily negligent.

It is important that Washington, D.C. personal injury plaintiffs are aware of the jurisdiction’s contributory negligence statute, which acts to preclude a plaintiff from recovering for their injuries if the plaintiff is determined to be even the slightest bit at fault. Anyone who has been injured on the premises of another should reach out to a dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury attorney to discuss their case in more detail.

Has Your Child Been Injured While at School?

If your child has recently been injured while at school, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries your child sustained. Washington, D.C. schools have a duty to protect students from harm while at school, including harm caused by third-parties. At the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, we have extensive experience assisting clients to pursue compensation for the injuries they have endured, including in Washington, D.C. school injury cases. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

How Does Washington D.C.’s “No-Fault” Auto Insurance Law Affect Injured Motorists?, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, December 11, 2018

Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Premises Liability Case Stemming from Slip-and-Fall at Doctor’s Office, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 23, 2018

Contact Information