According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), from 2004 to 2013 there were 340,039 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States. Of these, 4%, (or 1,214 crashes) were classified as “school transportation-related”, which means that they involved a school bus or other vehicle serving as a school bus to transport children to and from school or related activities, such as field trips or sports events.
The NHTSA reported that, on average, about 134 fatalities occur in school vehicle-related crashes every year in the US. Such crashes give rise to wrongful death lawsuits against schools and agencies.
Liability in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Involving a School or Agency
Whether it is for parents, family members, or caregivers, the death of a child always brings emotionally distressful times. In many cases, an allegation arises that the death was caused by the negligence or misconduct of a person though to be responsible for the child’s safety.
In wrongful death lawsuits against schools and agencies, it is important to sift out the emotions and focus on facts alone to determine the merit of an allegation like this. Some of the questions you need to ask include:
- Did the school or agency have a duty to ensure the protection of the child?
- Did they follow standards of care?
- Did they breach those standards?
- Was the child’s death actually caused by the breach of those standards?
When the child is in a daycare program, school or camp, it is the duty of the school or agency to make sure that the child is protected by providing appropriate supervision. When there is an allegation that there was a breach of this duty on the part of the school or agency and it resulted in the death of a child, a wrongful death claim may ensue.
For a school or agency to be found liable for a child’s wrongful death, that entity must have had a duty of care and breached that duty, resulting directly in the death of the child. It must, in turn, be shown that the death resulted in injury or loss to another, such as surviving family members like parents and siblings.
Essential Elements in a Wrongful Death Cause of Action
There are certain elements that need to be present in order to file a successful wrongful death cause of action, such as the following:
- A human being’s death
- Death caused by negligence or intent to cause harm by another person
- Survival of family members who suffer monetary losses due to the death (though a family does not face a monetary loss when they lose a child, they do face the loss of a family member which is tragic)
- The appointment of a personal representative for the estate of the decedent
In the context of schools and other agencies, any number of situations can give rise to wrongful death claims. Such examples include:
- A bus accident
- A child drowning in a swimming pool or falling from a cliff during a field trip
- A fold-up lunch table weighing 300 pounds falling onto a child from a cafeteria wall
- A school security guard shooting and killing a student on school property
- Excessive discipline
- Administering the wrong medication
Unfortunately, these are only a few examples of the countless circumstances that could result in the death of a child.
Conditions for Liability
A school or agency may be held liable for a child’s wrongful death in the same way that it might be held liable for a child’s injury. They have the same conditions, but death is the ultimate result, and damages are focused on surviving family members rather than the injured party.
Whether they are the plaintiff or defendant attorney, there are a number of questions that lawyers need to consider when determining the merit of filing a wrongful death lawsuit or defending against one:
- Was it the school or agency’s duty to protect the decedent in that particular situation?
- What reasonable standard of care should have been applied under the circumstances, and was that standard applied by the school or agency?
- If this standard was breached, was it a significant factor in causing the death?
- Could the proximate cause of injury or death have been prevented by any intervening variables?
- Did the deceased child contribute to their own death through self-negligence?
Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
In a typical lawsuit for wrongful death, an attorney will seek to recover damages for the surviving family of the victim, including the following:
- Immediate expenses that are associated with the death, i.e. medical, hospital, medication and funeral costs
- Loss of potential for future earnings
- Loss of consortium
- Injury or destruction of the relationship between the parents and the child
- Emotional distress
The actual amount of compensation that can be recovered in such lawsuits depends largely on the facts of each individual case. In cases of wrongful death of a child, non-economic damages, such as loss of the child’s love, affection, comfort and companionship, are the most significant damages.
Getting Legal Help for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Wrongful death claims or lawsuits are emotional and, as a result, many factors need to be considered to recover damages. Some of these can be difficult to prove, which is why you need to have a legal professional to handle cases involving the wrongful death of a child caused by a school or agency’s negligence. Such lawsuits can be complex and you can expect the school or agency to fight back with their own team of lawyers.
If you have lost a child due to the negligence of a school or agency, you should immediately seek the legal expertise of a wrongful death attorney. At Fetterman & Associates, PA, we have a team of skilled and committed attorneys who have the expertise to handle such cases and make sure that the negligent party is held liable for their actions and pay the compensation you are entitled to by law. Call us at 561-845-2510 today for a free case evaluation.
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