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What Does a School Liability Waiver Actually Do?

Posted in School Safety on July 6, 2017

If you are a parent of a school-age child, you probably sign many, many permission slips. If you don’t, your child will be left at school, sitting alone in a near-empty classroom, missing out on all the fun of a class field trip or other off-campus activity or unable to participate in an after-school sport program. A permission slip typically contains a waiver of liability; you agree not to hold the school responsible for any harm that might come to your child. But isn’t it the responsibility of the teacher or other supervising adult to take reasonable care to avoid a child coming to harm—regardless of where the class is? Signing permission slips has become so routine that parents may give little thought to them—until their child is injured. Then, they often assume that since they signed the liability waiver, their hands are tied, and they are unable to sue, even if a teacher or other member of the school staff was negligent. Simply requiring that parents sign these waivers serves as a deterrent to parents who might otherwise be inclined to initiate a lawsuit against a school district. You May Still Have Legal Recourse Having signed a waiver, however, does not automatically mean that you are without legal recourse if your child has been hurt. Why? Because state courts frequently will not uphold a waiver. Schools and their staff still have a legal responsibility to supervise their charges and keep them from harm, regardless of anything a parent may have signed. You have the right to sue for negligence by showing:
  • That school personnel had a duty to keep watch over your child
  • That they failed in this duty of care
  • That as a direct result of their failure to supervise, your child was injured
  • That your child and you suffered actual damages as a result.
Inherently Dangerous Activities The refusal of courts to uphold waivers typically does not extend to activities that come with inherent risk of injury, for example certain team sports or gymnastics (including cheerleading). While a sports waiver may preclude you from suing the school for an injury that occurred during the activity, and possibly may include claims of negligent supervision or transportation of your child to a sports event, it does not protect the school from liability for injuries arising from gross negligence on the part of the staff—that is when the injury was caused by failure to exercise any care whatsoever, or from a deliberate or reckless act on the part of the person in charge—an act that that person knew or should have known came with a high likelihood of causing harm. A possible example would be a football coach requiring a team to run for an hour in ninety-degree heat without a water break. Get a Qualified Legal Opinion If your child has been injured during a school-related activity, don’t let the fact that you signed that permission slip deter you from consulting an attorney. You may very well be able to recover monetary damages, regardless of the waiver. An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you as to whether you and your child have a valid claim for damages, and how a court is likely to rule in a situation like the one you are dealing with. Your attorney will examine the circumstances surrounding the injury and counsel you as to what legal options might be available and how best to proceed.