School Safety Lawsuits – Exhibit A

This type of photo can serve as “exhibit A” in school safety litigation.  This photo was taken during a school safety assessment and depicts a security gate that was left unlocked and open.  The primary reason for this security gate is to prevent unauthorized people from climbing the tower and falling to their death.  Evidence that a safety feature was not utilized, a policy was not followed or video footage of staff ignoring safety precautions can be among the most powerful evidence in a school safety lawsuit.

This type of photo can serve as “exhibit A” in school safety litigation. This photo was taken during a school safety assessment and depicts a security gate that was left unlocked and open. The primary reason for this security gate is to prevent unauthorized people from climbing the tower and falling to their death. Evidence that a safety feature was not utilized, a policy was not followed or video footage of staff ignoring safety precautions can be among the most powerful evidence in a school safety lawsuit.

 

Powerful Evidence in School Safety Lawsuits

A multi-million dollar school safety lawsuit against a security company was recently dismissed by a federal court judge.  The case involved an accident where a student fell four stories in a large open stairwell during a school dance.  I reviewed the case for defense counsel and determined that school officials had failed to secure a series of expensive electronic safety gates that had been installed to prevent this exact type of event.  There were also a series of tragic and blatant safety errors on the part of several school administrators.  Instead of suing the people who had failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the tragedy, plaintiff’s counsel attempted to sue the contract security company.  While the district enjoys qualified immunity, the security company did not and would have appeared to be an easier target. 

Don’t depend on luck for school safety

In effect, the plaintiff’s attorney had sued the wrong defendant.  He did not properly evaluate the circumstances of the case, missing critical facts such as the failure of school administrators to lock the safety gates.  Fortunately for the school district, by the time the judge reviewed my report and dismissed the suit, the statute of limitations had passed.  The attorney could not file what would have been a much more solid lawsuit against the school district.  I would not suggest school officials rely on attorneys making such errors.  The attorney who made this mistake was actually a highly competent personal injury attorney not prone to such errors in judgment.  School officials were blessed with unusual luck in this case.

A better approach

A better approach is to develop a school culture where people do what they are supposed to do to enhance school safety.  Following proper safety precautions makes schools safer while reducing liability exposure.  This approach reduces the chances of successful school safety lawsuits.  More importantly, it makes schools safer and more effective.  While no safety system will be perfect, efforts to reduce these types of oversights can be worthwhile.  Being alert to safety devices that are not being properly utilized can keep you out of court while preventing serious injury and death. 

 

 

Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.
Michael Dorn
About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.