• Student Fractures Ankle in Gym Class at School

I often receive inquires from parents whose children have suffered an injury at school. I received the following question today and thought it would prove worthwhile reading for parents with questions when their child suffers an injury at school.

Question from a Parent of a Child Injured at School

My son fractured his ankle in gym. The school has stated that they will pay his medical bills, even though they still required me to provide his health insurance. The doctor has recommended that my son receive physical therapy three times per week and he is on crutches. I do not have a car and it cost $25 each way for a cab to the physical therapist office. The school has agreed to send my son a handicap bus to transport him to and from school. Are they liable for his injury and can I sue them to pay for transportation?

Response to a Parent of a Child Injured in a Gym Class

I am sorry to hear about your son’s injury and I hope that he has a full and fast recovery. It sounds as if you have taken all the necessary first steps to take care of your son:

  •  Get your son the medical care he needs
  • Contact the school to make sure they file an incident report with their insurance company
  • Speak to the school’s insurance company about providing coverage for the injuries and treatment.

I must say that the school district has been responsive in immediately offering to cover your medical bills and to offer the special transportation while your son uses crutches. You should ask the school’s medical insurance carrier if they are willing to reimburse you for the transportation to your son’s physical therapist. Perhaps they could also find a physical therapist closer to your home and that would lower the transportation cost.

You want to know if you can pursue additional compensation from the school district. You do not say where you live so I do not know what state and local laws may apply. I will apply the laws of New York since I practice personal injury law in New York.

To prevail in a lawsuit against the school district you would need to prove that the school caused or contributed to your son’s injury through the negligence or recklessness of the school personnel or some issue concerning the maintenance and design of school property. You say that your son fractured his ankle in gym class, but you do not say how. If your son was participating in an event under the supervision of a gym teacher and happened to fracture his ankle simply playing  a game, that is most likely not a case of negligence. For example, my eldest son once fractured his hand playing basketball, yet it occurred in the course of a pick-up game and resulted from natural play and not the negligence of another person. We all need to remember that injuries can occur in athletic activity through no fault of any person, but as part of the activity.

The school has an obligation to place your son in a safe environment. That requires the school to make reasonable attempts to prevent students from undertaking unsafe activities such as jumping off bleachers or engaging in improper physical horseplay. In gym class, we have a reasonable expectation that the teachers will provide adequate instruction about an activity and provide adequate equipment for the activity.

Many schools have eliminated gym activities that resulted in risks and I often think that is unfortunate. I remember jumping on a trampoline and trying to navigate a balance beam, yet most schools have eliminated those activities. Even run of the mill gym activities such as dodge ball, basketball, softball, running around a track, soccer, volleyball and touch football carry certain risks. As long as those activities are conducted in a safe environment, the school would not and should not be liable for injuries a child may suffer. I am a personal injury attorney, yet I do not believe someone is to blame for every injury or that we can or should eliminate all risks.

That said, injuries can and do result from negligence in school. Here are some examples of negligence that could occur in a gym class:

  • The teacher left the class and in the teacher’s absence, horseplay broke out and that resulted in your son’s injury or another student purposely assaulted your son.
  • Students engaged in risky behavior and the teacher failed to make an effort to stop the behavior.
  • The teacher left the class and your son engaged in a risky behavior – perhaps climbing a rope or structure he should have avoided and fell and hurt himself.
  • Your son tripped over a hole or defect in the gym floor.

In general, if your son’s injury resulted from an incident that your common sense said should not have occurred in school, then it might be negligence. If the injury occurred as the result of normal activity, then it is not negligence.

If you think you have a case or have additional questions, you may want to consult a personal injury attorney in your local area. You could provide that attorney with more details about how the injury occurred and he or she could advise on the application of local laws.

I hope this information helps and I hope your son recovers quickly. If you or a loved one has been hurt due to the negligence of another person or party, you may want to consult a New York personal injury attorney experienced with supermarket cases. I would be glad to answer your questions and assist you. There is never a fee for this consultation. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.

Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney
www.SchlittLaw.com
http://schlittlaw.com/law-blog/
1-800-660-1466
[email protected]

This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney. Remember, each case has a unique fact pattern. Past results do not
guarantee future outcomes.

  • Lizy

    Hi I had a question about whether a gym teacher can be held responsible if the activity they teach is obviously likely to cause harm. It was a game that was played in a small padded wrestling room. Half of the class was on one side of the gym and the other half was on the other. Each team would display one of three symbols similar to rock paper scissors, and then the losing team would run back to try and touch the wall before they were tagged by the winning team who was chasing them towards the wall. With a large group of kids in such a small room with both groups running full speed at the wall, I don’t see how their won’t be problems. In my case, as I was running to the wall, just as I got there, I was pushed very hard into the wall and caught my knee in a way that severely pulled the muscle and damaged the joint so that I initially had a hard time walking. I do not blame the student who pushed me because I feel that it was not something that could be avoided due to the game. Although I do not need financial compensation, I am a serious athlete and will lose invaluable time to train. I also think the game along with a couple others that involve running at the wall that he teaches should be eliminated. Legally, what is your perspective on this?

    • http://www.Schlittlaw.com Carol L. Schlitt

      I am sorry to hear of your injury and the lost training time. My two older boys play competitive sports in college and high school so I can understand how much of a loss missed training time could be.

      You asked for a legal opinion. While I cannot give a formal opinion without more information, I can offer some general guidance. Teachers have an obligation to take reasonable actions to keep their students safe. Even with precautions, accidents and injuries will happen and not as a result of negligence. As long as teachers act in a manner that others would consider prudent, they do not commit negligence. In this case, the teacher may have concluded that the padded room offered sufficient protection. From your description, the activity does not seem untoward, no more so than a game of touch football or a good game of basketball.

      Negligence would occur if the teacher knew that an activity was dangerous and did it anyway or if a teacher should have known that an activity would be dangerous. Had students suffered injuries due to this game before? Had anyone told the teacher this might be dangerous? After your injury, did the teacher continue the game? These are the questions that could help determine if negligence did occur. In most venues, the courts will give teachers the benefit of the doubt in negligence cases.

      To seek compensation, you would need to prove negligence and that the negligence caused you damages, so you would have to prove that you suffered damages worthy of compensation.

      I do have an alternative: you could write a letter to the head of physical education or to the principal alerting them to your injury and how you suffered it. Ask for an evaluation of the activity and ask if the school plans to take any steps to eliminate similar injuries in the future.

      I hope this information helps. When in doubt, consult with an attorney.

      Carol L. Schlitt
      New York Personal Injury Attorney
      http://www.SchlittLaw.com
      http://nylawthoughts.com
      1-800-660-1466
      [email protected]
      This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.
      All content of this site:
      © copyright 2010-2011 by Carol L. Schlitt
      The material presented in this blog may not be reproduced or appropriated in any way without the explicit permission of the author.

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