Schools have a certain legal obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their students. This obligation was the crux of one Cook County student’s lawsuit against his school district and physical education teacher for injuries he suffered during PE class. The First District Appellate Court agreed that the case should proceed to a trial, allowing the student to proceed with his argument that his teacher’s conscious decision to have students play without eyewear, even though she knew the school had protective goggles, could possibly constitute willful or wanton conduct.
In this case, the injured student was a 15-year-old boy who was participating in his high school’s physical education class. On this day, the class was playing floor hockey, using a hockey ball in place of a puck. At one point during the game, the ball struck another student’s stick and, deflecting off that stick, flew into the boy’s eye, injuring him.
Allegedly, the PE department had goggles available for use, but the teacher did not demand that the hockey students wear them, nor did she inform the students that they were available. The student contended that the teacher and the school should have provided protective eyewear, and the failure to provide this protection constituted the sort of “willful and wanton” conduct that allows for the pursuit of a personal injury case.
The law places certain limitations on when teachers and schools can be liable in personal injury actions. If a student is injured as a result of a school employee’s action that was a discretionary one, and the conduct was not willful or wanton, the student generally cannot recover damages. The teacher and the school in this case argued that the teacher’s decision to conduct the hockey game without goggles was discretionary, and the failure was neither willful nor wanton.
The trial court issued a directed verdict for the school and the teacher, concluding that the evidence was not enough to show the presence of a willful or wanton act of misconduct. The appeals court, though, reversed that ruling, clearing the way for the student to take his case to a jury.
This student had evidence indicating that the class had played floor hockey multiple times, and, in previous games, the ball had popped off the ground and into the air. Nevertheless, the teacher testified in her deposition that she decided not to require the student to wear goggles because she thought the flying ball did not threaten to cause a serious eye injury. The fact that she knew the ball might cause some sort of eye injury but still did not demand the use of eyewear could amount to a “a conscious disregard for the safety of her students,” according to the appeals court.
Even more helpful to the student’s case was the proof that the teacher made this decision even though she knew the PE department had goggles on hand. As the appeals court reasoned, the only possible reason for having goggles was for use during class activities that posed a possible risk of eye injury, yet the teacher convened the game without them. This “conscious decision to forego the use of already-available safety equipment” was, the court concluded, clearly a type of conduct that a reasonable jury could potentially find to be willful or wanton and sufficient to allow a judgment and damages award in favor of the student.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to the misconduct of school employees, reach out to the knowledgeable Chicago personal injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca. Our attorneys have been helping injured people for years in fighting for fair compensation and are ready to help you with your case. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.
More Blog Posts:
Illinois Appeals Court Upholds $2.5M Award Against School For Its Missteps in Student’s Asthma-Related Death, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Dec. 21, 2016
Protecting Young Athletes from Head Injuries, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Feb. 22, 2016