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We recently received an inquiry from a parent whose son was injured in gym class. It was more than just a bruise. He had some bleeding in his eye and had to stay home from school and all activities for two weeks. While at home, he was on bed rest. The child then developed cataracts as a result of the injury and required surgery. It was unclear at the time the parent contacted us, but there was the possibility that the child could suffer permanent injury as a result the incident at school.

Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that anything can be done, legally speaking. Even with a clear injury and no doubt about the fact that it happened at school, it probably isn’t a good case. The reason is that the injury happened at a public school. This fact can make all the difference in school injury cases.

Public schools, as a part of the government, are protected from negligence lawsuits. Basically, this means that they can be negligent and not get sued. If you want to be successful in a case against a public school in Illinois, you have a harder case to prove. You have to prove that the school was “willful and wanton,” which is worse than simple negligence.

In order to prove simple negligence, you have to show that the defendant owed a duty and that they breached (failed to live up to) that duty, and that you were injured as a result. Being negligent is similar to being careless, or to not acting reasonably in a given situation. If your child is injured at a private school, you need only prove simple negligence.

The “willful and wanton” standard for public schools, however, requires you to prove that the defendant acted much worse than just carelessly. You have to prove that they intentionally hurt your child or acted with complete recklessness and disregard for the safety of your child.

Although it is a more difficult to succeed in an injury case against a public school, it does happen. If you can prove that there was a dangerous condition at the school that the staff knew about, yet did nothing to fix, and your child was injured, you might be able to prove “willful and wanton” behavior. If other kids in gym class had experienced similar injuries, for example, and the school knew about it, they could potentially be held responsible for not fixing the situation. Another good case is where you can prove that there was intentional conduct that hurt your child.

The different levels of fault can be confusing to sort through. Rather than decide on your own whether you have a good case, talk to a school injury attorney and get their opinion. Injury attorneys charge on a contingency fee basis, which means that you only pay a fee if you win.

Written by Michael Helfand