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Who Is Responsible If My Child Is Assaulted at School?

Parents expect their children to be safe while attending school. And when their child suffers is injured due to the negligence of school officials, they rightly expect to hold the school accountable. Unfortunately, many school officials try to deny responsibility for student safety even when they know there may be a serious problem.

District Faces Trial Over 6-Year-Old Sexual Assault Victim

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed a case involving a truly terrifying scenario: allegations that a six-year old boy was sexually assaulted by one of his own classmates. According to the child’s parents, he was sexually assaulted in a school bathroom at least five times.

The mother initially suspected her son was being bullied. The school’s principal subsequently informed the child’s father about one of the assaults, which occurred in a bathroom stall. A teacher later questioned the alleged assailant, who admitted that he “put his mouth” on the victim’s “private parts.”

The parents sued the school district for negligence. In response, the district argued it could not be held responsible for the sexual assaults as a matter of law because they were “not reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances.” A trial judge agreed and granted summary judgment to the school district.

The parents appealed, and in a June 23 decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment and returned the case for trial. The appeals court noted that under Tennessee law, a negligence claim requires proof that the defendant owed a “duty of care” to the plaintiff. To establish this duty, the courts must initially determine whether there was a “foreseeable” risk to the plaintiff.

Here, the trial court simply accepted the school district’s claim that no sexual assault against a child could ever be foreseeable. But the evidence presented by the parents suggested otherwise, according to the appeals court. In fact, the school district had dealt with a prior allegation of sexual assault against a student in a bathroom. In response to that incident, which occurred during an after-school care program, the district announced a policy directing teachers to accompany children to the bathrooms during after-school programs. And at the time of the victim’s alleged assaults in this case, the district had a similar policy during the main school day stating that children “must never be out of sight” of teachers.

The Court of Appeals said the existence of these policies, combined with the earlier incidents, created a “genuine question of fact” as to whether the district “anticipated these types of assault.” And if bathroom assaults were a foreseeable risk, that may establish the school district owed a duty to protect the students. The appeals court said at a minimum, the district was not entitled to summary judgment.

Get Advice From a Tennessee Negligence Attorney

No parent wants to contemplate a scenario where their child is assaulted or injured. But if your child is hurt, it is important to speak with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer who can help you identify the responsible parties and hold them accountable. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you need to speak with someone about your case right away.

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