Learning Lessons from School Safety Litigation

A few years back I wrote about viewing school safety through the lens of litigation. Between conference keynotes and working with school districts, I am still buried up to my neck in case files for civil actions against school and public safety officials. I am always busy with expert witness work and school safety litigation is time-consuming, but some cases have more complexity than others. This month’s collection of binders contains a series of complicated situations which demand close attention and painstaking examination.

While I decline the vast majority of cases I am contacted about, I do find that working some cases serves as a valuable learning experience. School safety incidents usually look quite different when you review 5 to 10 binders of documents along with security camera footage, audio from 911 calls and other evidence in contrast to viewing a 90-second blip on the news.

Though this month marks my 35th year in the field of campus safety, I must say that I still learn something new each year. I learn from respected colleagues, from reading books and articles, conducting school security assessments, and in general, we learn a great deal from our clients. However, some of the most invaluable lessons I have learned have come from my work in school safety litigation. Spending 40, 50, 60 or more hours reviewing a case file and preparing a report that is more thoroughly cited page per page than the average master’s thesis is always challenging and informative.

Carefully reviewing depositions, policies, manuals, training program power points, legal documents, camera footage, and other forms of evidence affords quite a different view than most other forms of work that I do. These experiences shape the way I view documentation, verbiage in policies, procedures, training programs and virtually every aspect of school safety. When I deliver a conference presentation, conduct assessments, or prepare written reports for clients, I am constantly considering how the words, concepts, and actions of my audience and clients would be perceived in the event of safety-related litigation.

Whether the case involves an active shooter incident, the rape of a student in their school, molestation of young children by school employees, death from sudden cardiac arrest or the death of a child crushed by a falling object in a classroom, each case offers valuable lessons on how the chances that serious injuries and deaths can be averted with effective safety practices.

This perspective also drives a more important thought process. If the strategies, documentation, and training processes are well-designed from a liability reduction standpoint, they are usually also more reliable in preventing and preparing for school crisis events. While not always the case, most of the cases I work involve a tragic ending. Using what I learn as each tragedy is dissected page by page and frame by frame, does create the silver linings in such dark clouds. While no school safety measures are foolproof, there are many opportunities and possibilities to prevent tragic events in schools. Application of the lessons to be learned from each tragedy can help to prevent many more devastating school crisis events so that we can avoid school safety litigation altogether.

school safety litigation case files

This is the initial case file for a single-victim case resulting in school safety litigation.

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.