Sovereign Immunity and Public Schools

Here at our Law Office, we deal with many child injuries. Many of our calls are from parents who had a child injured at school due to a teacher or supervisor's negligence. The first question I ask them when after they tell me their child was hurt at school is "Private or Public?" This one little question makes all the difference on whether we can take their case. This is because public schools are considered governmental units and can only be sued for personal injuries in two limited situations. The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code lays out those situations:

"A governmental unit in the state is liable for: (1) property damage, personal injury, and death proximately caused by the wrongful act or omission or the negligence of an employee acting within his scope of employment if: (A) the property damage, personal injury, or death arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment; and (B) the employee would be personally liable to the claimant according to Texas law; and (2) personal injury and death so caused by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property if the governmental unit would, were it a private person, be liable to the claimant according to Texas law. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.021."

The only two situations you can successfully sue a public school for a personal injury is if the injury was related to a motor vehicle owned by the school or an injury took place using tangible property. For example, if your child is riding in a school bus and the school bus driver is drunk and crashes into a pole, you can sue under the first provision of chapter 101.021. If for example, your child is in wood shop class and the equipment the students are using brakes and causes injury to your child, you can sue under the second provision of chapter 101.021. However, unless you tie injuries to these two provisions the public school has sovereign immunity and may not be sued under state law. This can be extremely frustrating as a parent and as a personal injury lawyer. In some situations there may be a federal remedy under a 1983 action, but those are usually reserved for personal injuries relating to sexual assault or other civil rights violations. 

If you or a loved one has been hurt and a school (public or private) give our office a call. Even if we cannot help you because of the way the law is written, we can answer your questions. 

Be the first to comment!
Post a Comment