How to Sue a School in Chicago for Injuries

If you are thinking of suing your child's school in Chicago for injuries, know ahead of time that it can be a confusing and uphill battle. Public schools, as government institutions, enjoy special government immunity from certain kinds of liability. That means the school district can't be sued unless it agrees to the lawsuit (highly unlikely).

Two separate laws provide immunities to school districts and their employees from lawsuits; the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (The Tort Immunity Act, for short) and the Tort Liability of Schools Act. Yes, we know. The language is dense and confusing. Here we will provide you a brief overview of the law, including general time limits and where to file your claim.

A word of caution. Before bringing any lawsuit, you may want to at least consider consulting an attorney specializing in education law or a local legal aid provider.

Grounds for Your Lawsuit

There are several reasons you may want to file a lawsuit against your Chicago school district. If your child was injured at school, you might want to file a negligence lawsuit. Other more common reasons parents sue include: 

  • Discrimination against a student on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, or other categories protected by law;
  • Bullying or acts of violence on schools grounds or during a school activity;
  • Unreasonable or excessive punishments by school officials against your child; and
  • Sexual misconduct committed by a teacher or staff member.

Is the process the same for public and private schools?

No, it isn't. As noted before, Illinois has a set of rules that expressly state how and where a school can be sued in Chicago.

For lawsuits against public schools, you'll have to file in the Court of Claims, a special group of judges who specifically hear cases against the government. If you are filing a suit against a private school (one that does not receive any government funding), you will file your claim in local court.

How do I file a claim against my child's public school?

Here's the deal. The specific rules for suing a public school can be found in the two places: the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act and the Tort Liability of Schools Act. In most cases, your lawsuit will hinge on whether or not the school district and/or its employees were acting recklessly when your child was injured during school-related activities. Examples of school-related activities include:

  • Classroom Teaching;
  • Physical Education Classes,
  • Extracurricular Sports Programs;
  • Field Trips;
  • Administrative Activities and Recordkeeping; and
  • Daycare Programs.

Educators are generally immune from liability caused by ordinary negligence.

What are some examples of reckless behavior?

"Reckless" means "any action that is intended to cause harm or, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others or their property." Here are some examples of reckless behavior where an educator might be held liable:

  • A gym teacher who ignores a student's doctor's note and forces him or her to play a sport;
  • A teacher who fails to provide eye protection during a chemistry experiment;
  • A wrestling coach with no medical training who tries to manipulate an injured student's knee, sends him back out to practice, and fails to get him medical attention.

However, on the flip side, a court found that an instructor's unsafe placement of gym mats was not considered reckless, but merely negligent. Remember, each case is different and your case will depend on your individual circumstances.

Other Types of Immunity

The bottom line is that the laws are designed to severely limit your public school's liability, since taxpayer dollars are at stake. Under the Tort Immunity Act, a school district can be immune under a number of distinct provisions. A school district would likely be immune for discretionary acts, many issues regarding supervisions, for recreational activities, for hazardous recreational activities, and maintenance issues. There are exceptions to the immunity provisions, such as liability for willful and wanton conduct.

Is there a time limit to file against my child's public school?

Act quickly. You only have one year from the date of your child's injury to send a notice of filing to the school's attorney and with The Court of Claims. If not, your case will be dismissed.

Can I sue for punitive damages?

This one is simple. No, you can't sue for punitive damages. Why? Local governmental entities (school districts) are immune from punitive damages under the Tort Immunity Act.

Can I sue my child's private school?

Yes, if your child attends a private school, your options can include a suit for negligence, breach of contract issues, or simply filing a claim with the school's insurance policy. The government immunity laws do not protect private schools unless they receive federal funding.

Examples of breach of contract issues that can arise with a private school include disputes over the tuition that a parent has to pay for their child to attend a private school.  Also, there may be complaints about a private school's selectivity when it comes to admitting or dismissing students.

Because there are so many variables regarding suing a school in Chicago, it may be a good idea to have the expertise of a Chicago education lawyer on your side. An experienced attorney will have tried cases similar to yours and know what to expect and how to proceed when seeking damages for your child's injuries.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.