Chicago Workers’ Compensation Lawyers & Illinois Injury Lawyers

How to Take on a Case Where Your Child Was Injured at School in Illinois

| May 29, 2024 | Personal Injury |

If you have a child that has been hurt while in the care of school staff in Illinois, you may have heard that it can be relatively difficult to sue the school and win. While that is true, it is also true that it is far from impossible to win cases like these. With the right evidence, the right legal arguments and the right Chicago injury attorney, you can still succeed in a school injury lawsuit and can still recover substantial compensation.

Here’s an example of what we mean. Just west of Chicago in Kane County, a child who required the assistance of a wheelchair was seriously injured in a bus crash. One August afternoon last year, the student’s bus driver and aide allegedly were unable to secure the boy’s wheelchair to the bus, even after several minutes of trying, according to a NBC Chicago report.

The attorney for the family indicated that the bus driver was heard saying that she “had too many kids on the bus this afternoon” to continue trying the secure the wheelchair and, reasoning that she could “just… take it slowly around the corners,” she began her route. According to the family’s lawsuit, there were exactly four students aboard that bus.

Shortly after the ride began, the driver allegedly braked very hard to avoid missing a turn, causing C.P.’s wheelchair to tip over on top of him. Allegedly, after attempts to get the wheelchair off the boy proved unsuccessful, the bus driver went back to driving her route, including dropping off another student, according to a Patch report.

Furthermore, there allegedly was a delay of several minutes in calling 911. The lawsuit alleged that the nearly 400-pound wheelchair lay on top of the boy for almost 20 minutes. The injuries C.P. suffered, which included multiple bone fractures, a brain injury and respiratory failure, were so severe that the boy spent approximately two months in the hospital.

What ‘willful and wanton’ is in Illinois and its impact in a school injury case

What makes school injury cases particularly challenging is that schools are immune from suit when the wrongdoing that occurred was just ordinary negligence. If, for example, a cheerleader is hurt during a practice routine where all the proper protections were in place, that’s probably not a winning case against the school or the cheerleading coach, because that is probably, at most, ordinary negligence.

Illinois law says that the wrongdoing must have been “willful and wanton.” The Illinois Statutes define that as “a course of action which shows an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm or which, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”

One of the best ways you can strengthen your case of willful and wanton misconduct is to demonstrate that a school employee violated established and known policies. For example, in the cheerleading hypothetical, if the accident had occurred because the cheerleading coach expressly allowed the students to attempt a stunt that was explicitly banned by the school district’s written safety policies, then that might offer a much stronger case of willful and wanton misconduct

In the real-world case of the boy in Kane County, there might be several missteps that, if proven, could constitute willful and wanton errors. If, for example, school policies and guidelines explicitly forbade bus drivers from starting or continuing their routes until all students with wheelchairs were secured to the bus, then that might be a very big piece of evidence in favor of C.P.’s parents.

Additionally, if school safety policies and guidelines require a bus driver to contact 911 immediately after any accident in which a wheelchair overturns and/or a student with a wheelchair is thrown from the chair, then that might also make for the basis of a winning case. Back in late 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld a $2.5 million jury verdict against a school district. The evidence in that case showed that, in spite of a written policy in the school handbook directing teachers to call 911 immediately if a student experienced a life-and-death medical emergency, a teacher faced with a student who collapsed from an acute asthmatic trauma waited between 7 and 20 minutes before calling 911.

Similarly, in C.P.’s case, if school rules required the bus driver to call 911 immediately after the wheelchair toppled, the fact that the driver allegedly waited several minutes could, if proven, be a major boost to the parents’ case.

In sum, while school injury cases can be challenging, they’re not impossible to win. To give your case the best chance of success, rely on the experienced Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca. Our attorneys have been handling, and winning, school injury and other kinds of injury cases for many years. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.