Your child comes home from school with a serious injury. The injury has led to your child suffering significant pain and distress and has also resulted in you, the parent, incurring large medical and other costs in dealing with the injury. Is the school liable for the damages suffered?
Schools have an obligation to protect the children in their care. The standard of care required of a teacher has been established to be that of a prudent and reasonable parent. In essence, given that a teacher is acting in loco parentis (in place of a parent), they are required to make decisions in the same manner that a reasonable and careful parent would. While the legal standard does not typically require schools to keep their students under constant supervision, they do have an obligation to keep students in their care from harm.
The application of the standard of care is dependent upon the unique facts of each situation. In cases involving an injury suffered during the course of a school sanctioned activity, the courts have considered the following factors in determining whether the school has met its standard of care:
- Whether the activity was suitable given the student’s age and mental and physical condition;
- Whether the student was provided with adequate training or instruction to undertake the activity and avoid foreseeable dangers;
- Whether the equipment was adequate and suitable;
- Whether the activity, having regard to its inherently dangerous nature, was properly and adequately supervised; and
- Whether the school properly followed its own procedures with respect to activity?
To date, cases in Canada have primarily dealt with physical injuries suffered by students at school. However, the standard of care likely has broader applications to other injuries (psychological and/or emotional) such as those stemming from the bullying at school.