When Are Schools Liable for The Injury or Wrongful Death of a Student?

Parents cherish nothing more than the health and well-being of their children. From the moment a child is born (and even before) parents seek to promote the success of the child by providing every available advantage. In that regard, most would agree that education has become one of the single most important factors in guaranteeing long-term success. Thus, with the passage of each year, it seems that our children spend more and more time at school and school-related functions, whether attending class or participating in extra-curricular activities. With the assistance of committed and professional teachers, principals, coaches, and other school personnel, we hope to give our young people an opportunity to develop skills and knowledge allowing them to thrive in society. And, as many parents know, when we entrust our children to the care of another, we expect them to recognize that they are protecting our greatest treasures. While Oregon has excellent schools, which usually perform admirably, we’ve all listened with horror to news stories about student injuries and deaths occurring at school. That leads many people to ask if a school can be held liable for wrongful death and other injuries.

What is Wrongful Death?

Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.020 sets forth the general requirements for a wrongful death action. When a person’s wrongful act or omission causes the death of another person, the decedent’s personal representative can sue the wrongdoer on behalf of the survivors. Oregon law defines the appropriate person to serve as the personal representative. Recoverable damages may include: the deceased’s doctor, hospital, nurse, and other medical bills; burial and memorial services; disability; pain and suffering; pecuniary loss to the decedent’s estate; pecuniary loss and loss of companionship and services by certain family members; and, when appropriate, punitive damages.

Considering Sovereign Immunity

Many people have heard the old saying that “the king can do no wrong.” This was a legal maxim developed centuries ago in England which prohibited lawsuits against the government, even if it acted wrongfully. This legal principle, now referred to as sovereign immunity, became part of American colonial law. As a result, beginning from early Colonial times, most governmental bodies have enjoyed some form of immunity from lawsuit. These rules vary from state to state. Thus, lawsuits against public schools, which are governmental entities, can be more complicated than other lawsuits. Importantly, private schools often do not enjoy the same protections as governmental entities.

Waiver of Sovereign Immunity

Just as the government can provide itself with sovereign immunity, the government can also allow itself to be sued. The Oregon Tort Claims Act, codified at Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.260 through 30.300, provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. Thus, some claims are allowed against the government, and some claims are not. Careful analysis and investigation is often required to determine whether a particular claim can proceed. It’s also important to note that Oregon law requires a claimant to satisfy various requirements to proceed against a governmental defendant. These requirements catch some victims by surprise, and can even result in the permanent loss of a claim. For example, in a wrongful death case, notice must be provided within a certain time period.

Consult with an Attorney Promptly

If your child has suffered injury or death at school or a school-related function, legal action may be the last thing on your mind. However, lawsuits against governmental bodies are complicated, have important deadlines, and require investigation. The sooner you obtain legal assistance, the sooner steps can be taken in an effort to hold wrongdoers accountable and to ensure that you don’t miss important deadlines. We are familiar with the law and can help you investigate your rights. Please contact us. We are happy to assist by answering your questions during a free consultation.

Helpful Links

U.S. News Article: “Mother Sues School District After Child Left Sleeping on Bus” - https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/oregon/articles/2017-03-21/mother-sues-school-district-after-child-left-sleeping-on-bus

KOIN6 Article: “Cheerleader sues Oregon school district after fall” - http://koin.com/2017/02/12/cheerleader-sues-oregon-school-district-after-fall/

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