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How Far-Reaching is a School Board’s Duty to Protect Students from Injury?

The Advocate Files: Personal Injury Law | School Accidents and Injury


How Far-Reaching is a School Board’s Duty to Protect Students from Injury?

By David Hollingsworth

If a child is seriously injured at school, obligations may extend beyond the typical occupiers’ liability of the supervising teacher, but that only occurs under certain circumstances, Ottawa school accident injury lawyer David Hollingsworth tells Top Lawyers.

Slipping on ice would be a typical occupiers’ liability claim but school staff can find themselves in legal action if something happens to the student on the teacher’s watch, says Hollingsworth, principal of Ottawa Personal Injury Lawyers.

“The first question is do the school board and the teacher owe the student the duty of care?” says Hollingsworth. “Yes, they do. The school authority has the duty to protect students from reasonably foreseeable risk of harm.”

The challenge is that part of the growing process is achieving independence over time, becoming self-reliant and achieving certain freedoms. And that involves the child taking some risks.

At the same time, the school is required to ensure the student is reasonably safe.

“So you’ve got this balancing act that the school professionals have to undertake, if someone’s injured, you have to see what side of that balance they fall on,” says Hollingsworth. “Did they meet the required standard of care?

“You can’t expect teachers or school board professionals to ensure against all injuries that may occur, but they have to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable injuries so that’s the duty.”

In reviewing such cases, Hollingsworth will analyze the standard of care the teacher has to meet, which is that of a careful and prudent parent. So they’re essentially standing in for the parent while the child is at school.

But each situation — and its circumstances — is different.

Factors such as how the students are engaged in a particular activity, the nature of that endeavour, the skill and training provided as well as the condition and sophistication of the equipment all come into play, he says.

Hollingsworth points to a scenario where a child breaks his nose during a regular soccer game in gym class.

“That’s just one of those accidents that happen, for which no one is liable,” he says.

But if a child is injured during an altercation, for instance, Hollingsworth would examine that case to determine if it was foreseeable, by looking at factors such as the school’s level of knowledge that the student would act out, the level of supervision at the time of the incident and any procedures in place to prevent the violence. That could include harassment and bullying in addition to physical violence.

New areas of protection have developed over the years, he adds. There is now training specific to identifying and preventing intimidation and bullying to ensure a discrimination-free and harassment-free environment.

“These are areas that are growing as we become more enlightened,” says Hollingsworth.

If a teacher is accused of being liable, it will likely be extended to the school management too, says Hollingsworth.

“When the claim is made against the teacher and the principal, the question often arises as to whether the school board is vicariously liable, and normally it would be,” he says. “Unless there is some extreme case, they have the duty to hire trustworthy and appropriate employees who understand the responsibilities involved in caring for children.”


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The points discussed above are from an Ottawa personal injury lawyer that focuses his practice on personal injury and disability law – Including serious injury and death arising from school events or outings. If a loved one has had a serious injury from any type of school related accident in Ottawa and surrounding regions contact David Hollingsworth for a free, no obligation consultation.

View the profile of this Ottawa injury lawyer


This and other articles / posts originally appeared on the now defunct As expressed in writing by that website’s owner, the articles / posts, part of a paid service provided by Advocate Daily, are the intellectual property of the lawyer and/or legal service provider who wrote, or for whom the article / post was written and they are free to use as they wish. All articles / posts redeployed on Top Lawyers are done with the expressed consent of the professionals mentioned in said article / post.

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