In recent times we have seen a significant increase in the amount of compensation paid in relation to accidents and injury on school premises or during school led activities. As a consequence, local authority and privately managed schools now carry out regular risk assessments on a range of activities to reduce their exposure to school injury compensation payments. To some this litigious environment is overkill but in reality the legal obligation to carry out risk assessments has probably saved many children from potentially serious injury.
Interestingly it is not only children (in reality their parents/ guardians) who are able to claim for accidents at school but also teachers, other employees, parents and visitors.
Common Accidents At School
In reality a whole range of different accidents could happen on the school premises or on school led activities. However, the most common school accidents include:
- Accidents when using play equipment.
- Injuries caused by dangerous buildings, playgrounds and walkways.
- Unsafe equipment such as desks and chairs.
- Sporting accidents.
- Trips, slips and falls on school premises.
- Food which is not prepared correctly, resulting in food poisoning.
Whether an employee of the school, child, parent or visitor, the amount of compensation paid out in successful school accident compensation claims will directly relate to the impact on their life and their well-being. When looking at compensation calculations the injury can sometimes be over shadowed by the impact on the person’s life although there is still a need to prove negligence and liability on behalf of the school (effectively the private owners or local authority).
Accidents On School Trips
While accidents and injuries are as likely to happen on school trips as they are on school premises, the school will not necessarily be held liable for all incidents. The individual circumstances will need to be considered because the school has a duty to supervise the children and keep them safe within reason. Even in the event of an injury there are situations where the school will have done everything which could be reasonably expected to avoid an accident. However, where there has been a flagrant breach of the school’s duty of care for children and staff there may be a case to answer for compensation.
Accidents At The School Gates
As soon as children, staff, parents and visitors leave the school premises this effectively eliminates any liability the school may have for subsequent accidents. Despite the fact that vehicle free areas have been designated and speed bumps introduced, there are still far too many accidents just “outside the school gates”.
In the event of a road traffic accident involving a child and a vehicle, all evidence would be secured, CCTV footage reviewed where available and a ruling on liability concluded. While drivers have a general duty of care to pedestrians and other motorists the situation is slightly different where children are involved. The law appreciates that children are more inquisitive, sometimes less aware of immediate danger and require additional protection.
So, in theory a road traffic accident involving a car and a child may be treated very differently to a road traffic accident involving a car and an adult, even in the same area. The idea is that when driving in an area where children will congregate, such as outside the school gates, there is a further responsibility to drive with due care.
Who Can Claim For School Accident Injury Compensation?
The time limit on school accident compensation claims is slightly different to the norm where children are involved. A parent, guardian or relative of a child involved in an accident who has been injured can act on their behalf in bringing a school accident compensation claim to the court. They can either pursue the claim up until the child is 18 years of age or the child can pursue a claim themselves with the traditional three-year limit starting on their 18th birthday. In effect a child would be able to claim on a school accident up until their 21st birthday.
The situation regarding parents, school employees and visitors who are involved in an accident and injured on the school premises (or when under the supervision of the school) reverts back to the traditional three-year limit.
Who Do You Make The Compensation Claim Against?
When making a school accident compensation claim the case is normally brought against the operator of the school/ education facility. This may be a private operator but more often than not it will be a state school and therefore the local authority will be taken to court. The situation is exactly the same whether it is a child, parent, school employee or visitor involved and injured in an accident at school. It is also worth noting that schools are obliged to take out insurance cover for accidents which will pay out on successful compensation rulings.
Are Schools Held Accountable For All School Accidents?
As we touched on above, with regards to road traffic accidents outside the school gates, the law treats children and adults very differently when it comes to a duty of care. Children are expected to be more inquisitive and less aware of potential danger than adults. As a consequence, schools have a more in-depth duty of care to children when compared to employees and visitors. Risk assessments should be carried out and updated on a regular basis, dangerous equipment replaced and all potential hazards taken out of the reach of children.
It is fair to say that there is a greater onus on the school to protect children but that is not to say that schools will be held liable for every accident on their premises or during outside activities. The courts will balance reasonable action taken by the school against the potential dangers and the cause of any accident and injury. After assessing all of the circumstances surrounding an accident the courts will rule on negligence and liability potentially opening the door to compensation claims.
When Might A School Be Liable In The Event Of An Accident?
One example of potential liability often discussed is that surrounding climbing frames in the school playground. If a school had taken all necessary precautions with the correct size climbing frame, ensuring it was in good working order and perhaps installing bark or safety matting to cushion any fall, their obligations would likely have been met. In this instance it would be hard to find a school liable in the event that a child fell off the climbing frame and broke their arm, depending on all the circumstances surrounding the accident of course.
However, if it was found that the climbing frame was potentially dangerous, the wrong size for the age group using the equipment or perhaps there was insufficient safety matting, the school could potentially be found to be negligent and liable for any compensation. This is just one example of situations where a school may or may not be deemed negligent and liable.
Levels Of Compensation For School Accident Injury
Guidance is released on a regular basis by the Judicial College with regard to compensation payments relating to prosecution for personal injury. They will take into account general scenarios although due to the often inquisitive nature of children, and inability to spot all danger, the range of compensation groups can be relatively large. It is worth noting that guidance released by the Judicial College is not legally binding on courts and insurance companies but it is used as a general basis for pay outs.
The vast majority of school accident compensation claims are settled out of court both in terms of general damages, relating to pain and suffering, and special damages which relate to specific financial loss. Where a minor is involved, any out-of-court settlement will need to be rubber-stamped by the courts often via an informal hearing.
Supporting Evidence For A School Accident Compensation Claim
As we touched on above, the situation is slightly different with regards to the time limit where children are involved. Parents, guardians and relatives can act on behalf of minors until they are 18 years of age with no time limit. A child will be able to claim on their own once they reach their 18th birthday at which point the three-year time limit will begin. This means that they can effectively claim for childhood school accidents until the age of 21.
In order to prove negligence and liability there will need to be a detailed report on the accident at school, witness statements and medical assessments. Even though many will welcome the extended timescale where minors are involved it is worth noting that many years down the line the details of an accident and the surrounding circumstances may become a little blurred. Where possible, it is advisable to pursue any school accident compensation claim sooner rather than later.
A personal injury solicitor will be able to advise and support you going forward giving you the best advice about pursuing a school accident injury compensation claim. You may also need financial advice about opening a trust fund to hold compensation payments until the child reaches a predetermined age.