Child Injuries at school and related premises
When a child attends a school, kindergarten or other educational institution a duty is owed to the student by the school and that duty is to take reasonable care for their safety. Whether or not an institution will be found negligent for any particular injury depends upon the reasonableness of the conduct of the institution on the particular occasion.
The standard of care required will usually be higher than that required in respect of adults.
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While children are at school during school hours, under the control and supervision of their teachers, those teachers have a legal duty of care to ensure, as far as reasonably possible, that all reasonable precautions have been taken to prevent foreseeable dangers and potential injuries. Childish horseplay is one such foreseeable danger.
If a school can show that it had a generally well-designed, well promulgated and well implemented system of supervision, covering reasonably foreseeable eventualities and providing plans for contingencies, then proving a breach of duty by that school can be an uphill battle.
In deciding what standard of care teachers should display in supervising children, the factors of age, capacity, intelligence, handicap, inherent risks in the situation and the teacher's past knowledge and experience of the students' behaviour will all be relevant.
There is no absolute duty to supervise children at all times. There is no fixed and predictable teacher-student supervisory ratio. There is no ratio of safe supervision and each case will depend on its own facts including the age of the children, the total number of children, the activities in which the children are participating, the intellectual capacity or handicaps of the children, the potential hazards of the activity and past experience of the behaviour of the children.
If children are allowed into a school ground, there is a duty of care established and some level of care (and usually, supervision) becomes necessary. If special circumstances of risk are known (or ought to be known) to the school authorities, then the duty of care and the need for supervision may extend beyond the school ground. For example where a student waits at a bus stop and it is known that students from another nearby school had a habit of bullying younger students, an injured student's school was held liable after the student was pelted in the eye with a stick.
In circumstances where it is known that the children will be on the school grounds before and after school hours, the school may be liable for non school-hours injuries. To recover damages for inadequate supervision, it is necessary, in addition to negligence to prove that an increased level of teacher supervision to a reasonable level would have been likely to have prevented the injury.
There are statutory provisions such as those relating to workplace health and safety which can also aid in a finding of negligence against educational authorities' liability for school injuries.
Incident reports at state schools can be accessed through a freedom of information (FOI) request addressed to the school.
Teachers are not expected to prevent all misbehaviour by pupils but where injuries are inflicted by one pupil on another through lack of control, this may be a negligent breach of the duty of care.
For example, where a pupil flicks a paper pellet and injures another pupil where there were clear previous indications of unruly misbehaviour, the educational authority may be liable for the injury. Where a teacher fails to prevent an injury inflicted by one pupil on another in the classroom during a fight, there may be a breach of the duty of care as the teacher should have intervened.
The duty which applies here is similar to that owed by any owner or occupier of any business premises upon which members of the public may enter, i.e, to design, construct and keep the premises safe as reasonable prudence can make them. The duty is higher however for schools, given the young age and known exuberance of students. Find more information about injuries in public areas here.