Ohio School Injuries: Who’s Legally Responsible?

Doug Mann

We all want to believe that our children are safe when they’re at school. But, school injuries are more common than you may realize. Across the 10-year period from 2011 through 2020, an average of more than 17,500 children and teens visited hospital emergency rooms each year as a result of in-school injuries

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Table of Contents
  1. What Causes School Injuries? 
  2. Who Gets Injured at School? 
  3. What are the Most Common Types of Injuries Students Suffer?
  4. When Do School Injuries Occur? 
  5. Avoiding School Injuries
  6. Who is Liable for Ohio School Injuries? 

Most of these students are examined, treated as necessary, and released. But, hundreds each year are hospitalized, held for observation, or transferred to another facility.

What Causes School Injuries? 

Many different types of accidents happen at school, for many different reasons. Some common examples include sports injuries, slip or trip and falls, falls from playground equipment, lacerations from tools such as scissors or lab equipment, and cuts or bruises from metal lockers and other fixtures. 

According to the same SafeHome report cited above, the top four causes of school-related injuries all involve sports and recreational activities. They are: 

  • Basketball
  • Unclassified sports and recreational activity
  • Football
  • Monkey bars and other playground climbing equipment

Some other common causes include stairs, exercise, floors and flooring issues, doors, furniture, and other playground equipment. 

Who Gets Injured at School? 

The SafeHome data shows that students in certain age groups make up a larger percentage of school injuries. In 2019 and 2020, just 10% of school-related injuries requiring a visit to the emergency department involved preschoolers. Elementary school students made up the largest sector, at 37%. Middle school and high school students split the remainder almost equally, at 25% and 28% respectively. 

What are the Most Common Types of Injuries Students Suffer?

The five most common types of school injuries are: 

  • Fractures
  • Strains and sprains
  • Lacerations
  • Abrasions and contusions
  • Internal injury

These five injury types make up 73% of school injuries that send children and teens to the emergency room. 

The remaining 27% includes: 

  • Concussions
  • Foreign bodies
  • Dislocation
  • Hematoma
  • Dental Injury
  • Ingestion
  • Other

Among all age groups, head and neck injuries are the most common. However, in younger children, head and neck injuries make up a much more significant percentage of injuries–74% for preschoolers and 45% for elementary school kids, compared with 27% and 28% for middle schoolers and high schoolers.

Arm injuries are second-most-common at every level at high school, where arm injuries and leg injuries tie for second place. 

When Do School Injuries Occur? 

Though school injuries can and do happen at any time, some months are far more dangerous for students than others. For the 10-year period from 2011-2020, the number of school injuries necessitating emergency room care was significantly higher in September and October than in any other month. The next most dangerous months are March through May. 

There are many possible reasons for the differences from month to month.

For example, September and October are typically the first two full months of the school year, meaning that there are students who are new to the classroom (or even building). The two months with the smallest number of injuries are June and July–a time when most students aren’t in school at all. And, the five months with the most injuries are all warm-weather months, when students are more likely to be outdoors using playground equipment and engaging in sports like football, soccer, and track.

Avoiding School Injuries

There are some simple tips for avoiding common injuries, such as making sure to use proper safety equipment in any setting, from a lab experiment to sports practice. It’s also important to follow safety rules such as “no running in the halls!” and to avoid roughhousing or using playground or athletic equipment in unintended ways. 

Other safety issues aren’t entirely within student control, but kids can be aware of them, take precautions, and alert teachers or other staff when appropriate. For example, debris or items on the floor, lack of clear pathways, broken equipment, and wet floors can all create hazards for students and staff alike.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to offer our kids 100% protection from injury at school. If your child is hurt at school, it’s important to know your rights and how you may be able to recover compensation. 

Who is Liable for Ohio School Injuries? 

In most school injuries cases, the school or school district is the first and most obvious candidate for liability. If the school, the school district, or employees of either acted negligently and that negligence caused or contributed to the injury, the school and/or school district may be liable. But, public and private schools are treated somewhat differently. 

School and School District Liability

A private school may generally be liable for negligence just like any other individual or entity. However, Ohio law offers some protection for “political subdivisions,” which includes public schools and public school districts. With limited exceptions, the law provides that:

…a political subdivision is not liable in damages in a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property allegedly caused by any act or omission of the political subdivision or an employee of the political subdivision in connection with a governmental or proprietary function.

An expert tip from Doug Mann

But, don’t assume that if your public-school student was injured at school, you have no recourse. First, a statutory exception may apply. For example, a political subdivision, including a school or school district, may be liable for injuries caused by physical defects in the building or grounds. So, if your child tripped on a broken school sidewalk, fell because a stair rail wasn’t properly maintained, or was injured on a damaged piece of playground equipment, you may be able to pursue a negligence claim. 

Third-Party Liability

Depending on the circumstances, you may also have a claim against a third party. For example: 

  • If your child was injured by a defective piece of playground equipment, left unprotected by poorly-manufactured protective sports gear, or burned by lab equipment that didn’t function as intended, you may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the faulty equipment.
  • If your child was hit by a motor vehicle on school property, you may have a negligence claim against the driver. If the vehicle was a school bus, an investigation may be required to determine whether the bus driver is an employee of the school or works for an outside contractor who may be legally responsible for the injury. 

These are just two examples of situations in which someone other than the school or school district may be liable for or share liability for school injuries. If your child has been hurt at school, you should speak with an Ohio attorney who is experienced in handling all aspects of school-related injuries as soon as possible. 

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