Who Is Liable for Injuries from School Violence?


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Schools have a duty to keep kids safe. When students are injured due to violent acts while under the care of school employees or contacted agencies, schools and service providers may be able to be held liable.

Recently in California, a lawsuit found the Riverside Unified School District and a bus company, Student Transportation of America, liable for damages in a sexual assault case of a student. The lawsuit alleged that a teenage girl with Down Syndrome was raped in February 2016 aboard a school bus on her way to school. The school district and the private bus company were charged with negligence
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for failing to provide proper supervision and immediate medical treatment for the child after she had been seriously injured.

The school district stated that they often contract with private agencies and companies for school services, but there are strict guidelines, policies, and procedures in place that protect students. According to the school district, safety expectations and guidelines were not adhered to by the bus company employee who was in charge of the bus at the time of the assault.

The lawsuit, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, seeks more than $25,000 in damages from the Riverside Unified School District and Student Transportation of America. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants allowed a violent sexual assault to take place while students were under the care of school officials. The victim was 14 years old at the time of her alleged assault, and the alleged perpetrator was only 12 years old. According to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, juvenile court criminal charges have been filed in the case.

When the assault took place between 7-8 A.M., the girl, the boy, and the bus driver were the only people on the bus. Although the school bus was equipped with video cameras, the bus driver claims he did not see the assault take place. The driver states that he saw the boy seated where the girl had been seated earlier and noticed that the boy was holding his pants up. The driver states that he stopped the bus and saw the victim with her pants down around her knees. He states that he did restrain the boy, but did not immediately report the incident to police or emergency workers, only to school officials after driving to the school campus. The girl’s mother was called to the school two hours after the incident, but she was not informed about the incident. She learned about the sexual assault only after overhearing a school nurse tell a receptionist that a police detective wanted the girl treated for sexual assault.

Since the sexual assault, the teenage girl has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She is experiencing difficulty in performing everyday tasks like eating, bathing and dressing herself. Although the victim does have Down Syndrome, her parents and doctors state that she has regressed in physical and cognitive functions since the sexual assault occurred. This case raises serious concerns for schools, students, and parents within the special needs community around the country. Schools that cater to special needs children are addressing ways to prevent future problems that may contribute to student safety and welfare while children are in their care.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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