It’s Toolbox Tuesday! Am I going to be held liable when a student hurts someone else?

On Tuesdays here at the Daily Dawg we like to discuss something about special education discipline and related topics. Those issues are the focus in our firm’s one-day Toolbox Training.  When I do the Toolbox, I often get questions about personal liability. Suppose we have a student that we know has violent tendencies. The kid hurts someone. We failed to prevent it. Who will be held liable for this?

If that question interests you, you should sign up for the audioconference our firm is producing on September 14th.  From 10:00 to Noon that day, attorneys Paula Maddox Roalson and Todd Clark will present: PERSONAL LIABILITY IN SPECIAL EDUCATION: HOW WORRIED SHOULD I BE?  You can sign up for this audioconference at the firm’s website:

There are lawsuits against individuals in the special education department.  In fact, there has been a noticeable uptick in suits naming as a defendant the director of special education, or an assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum.  But that just proves the old adage that “anybody can sue anybody over anything at anytime.” The more important issue is: will someone or some entity be held liable?

That’s far too complex a subject to address in one Daily Dawg—which is why I encourage you to sign up for Paula and Todd’s audioconference.  But while I have your attention, let me just make one point: when you hear stories of lawsuits and liability, be sure to notice where the case is coming from. State laws vary a great deal on this topic.

For example, I recently read Fernandez v. City of New York, 68 IDELR 50 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2016). In that case, a student “violently attacked” a bus aide. The aide sued the city and the school district, alleging that this attack caused her to have at least five surgeries and to be repeatedly hospitalized for depression and suicidal tendencies. She further alleges that she is now wheelchair bound, totally disabled and requires constant care.  The student who inflicted all this damage was five years old.  Yikes.

The various defendants tried to get the case tossed out of court, but that did not work. The New York Supreme Court held that there was the potential for liability here.  The case would have to go to trial.

But here’s the critical distinction.  The New York case happened in New York and is governed by New York state law.  Cases in Texas would be governed by Texas law, which provides immunity for school districts in tort cases like this, as well as immunity for school employees in most situations.  If the same fact situation occurred in Texas, it is highly unlikely that the school district or the individuals who work for the school would face personal liability.

That’s how tort cases work under state law. The more complicated issue is personal liability for violations of federal law.  Do you want to know about that?   Check out Paula and Todd’s audioconference.


File this one under: LIABILITY