How to Sue a School in Los Angeles for Injuries
Suing a school district is not an easy task. The first thing you need to know about suing a school in Los Angeles and/or their employees is that many of the usual rules for general civil lawsuits do not apply. Schools, as public institutions, enjoy special immunity from certain kinds of liability.
Nonetheless, if your child is injured at school or during a school activity you may be able to recover financial damages from the school district to pay for your child's medical bills and other costs. There are many steps in this process. You could very well need some legal assistance along the way. Read on to learn about the law and what remedies may be available to you in Los Angeles.
Determine the Grounds for Your Lawsuit
There are several reasons you may want to file a claim or lawsuit against a school district in Los Angeles. Negligence is the most common cause of action a parent can use if their child is physically injured at school. However, there are other grounds available such as:
- Bullying or acts of violence on schools grounds or during a school activity;
- Unreasonable or excessive punishments by school officials against your child;
- Sexual Misconduct committed by a teacher or staff member;
- Discrimination against a student on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, and other "protected" categories.
Does it matter if my child's school is public or private?
The process for suing a school district in California is vastly different for "public" and "private" schools. Every state has established rules that dictate when and how government entities like schools can be sued. Public schools are generally protected by "governmental immunity."
How do I file a claim against my child's public school?
Here's the deal. The specific rules for suing a public school are found in the "California Tort Claims Act." Before even thinking of file a lawsuit, you have to file a claim with the school district. For instance, in Los Angeles you may be filing with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Here's a link to the claim form (PDF). You'll only have six months from the date of the injury to file, so don't procrastinate.
You'll have to include the following information about your claim:
- Your name and address;
- Date, place, and circumstances of the incident;
- A description of the injury or damages
- The identity, if known of the public employee responsible
- The amount of the claim
NOTE: Be careful when describing how the injury happened. Your description must put the government on notice of all possible theories of liability that you intend to pursue in your lawsuit. Consider writing the description as broadly as possible to include not only known theories, but also any potential theories of liability. Sound tricky? It is, and the courts are very strict in enforcing this rule. If your claim doesn't describe a particular theory of liability, the courts will not allow you to pursue the claim in your lawsuit. You may want to consult an attorney before writing submitting your form.
Do I have to file my claim in person?
No, but you can. According to Government Code Section 915 (a), you can file in person, or by mail. When mailing the claim it should be mailed certified, return receipt requested. This means that when it is received the claim must be signed for and the receipt will be sent back to the person who mailed the claim. When you mail the claim the filing date is the date that it was mailed, not the date that it is received.
What happens once my claim is filed?
It's up to the school district if they want to "accept" or reject the claim. They must respond (either allow or reject the claim, in whole, or in part) within 45 days. Schools boards generally reject most claims against them.
What if the school board doesn't respond to my claim within 45 days?
The law sides with the school. If they don't respond at all, the claim is considered "rejected." That would generally mean that if you want to pursue an action, it's probably time to file a lawsuit.
Suing After Your Claim is Rejected
So, your claim against your public school was rejected. No surprise there. You can now proceed with your lawsuit. Your case must be filed with six months of the date of the rejection of the claim, or the law will bar your claim.
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.
Before you sue a school district, public or private, you may wish to contact an attorney who specializes in education or government law to see if governmental immunity laws apply to your school district.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.