From Playground Tussles to Teenage Rivalries, Who is Liable for a Fight at School?
“Just blowing off steam.”
“Boys will be boys.”
“They’re just kids.”
When kids get into fights, whether it’s a playground tussle or a clash of teenage rivals, these phrases get thrown around. It’s easy to dismiss youthful conflicts as a natural byproduct of hormones or their stressful school environment. Some people might even think that fights are a natural part of growing up, especially for boys. But many fights are far more than just kids blowing off steam. They are dangerous altercations that can lead to injuries, property damage, and liability issues for schools, teachers, and parents.
School Fight Statistics
According to ChildTrends, 24% of all high school students in 2017 reported involvement in a physical fight. Male students were far more likely than their female peers to get into fights, especially black males.
Most fights do not end in fatalities, according to research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of all youth homicides, only about 2.5% of them occur at school. However, that does not mean that school violence does not have a dramatic impact. In 2014, there were 486,400 cases of non-fatal violent incidents at school. In a survey of students, 5.6% admitted to avoiding school in the 30 days before the survey out of fear of violence. Another 4.2% said they carried a weapon, like a knife or gun, to school with them to protect themselves. When fear or violence becomes this intense, it not only has an impact on a student’s mental health and ability to function at school, but also puts other students and school staff at risk.
As these statistics show, many conflicts between young people are far more than just minor scuffles. During fights, students can sustain injuries like:
- Cuts and bruises
- Broken bones
- Concussions and traumatic brain injuries
- Mouth injuries, like broken teeth
- Sprains and strains
- Neck injuries, including serious spinal cord damage
- Eye injuries, like retinal detachment
In serious situations, injuries from a fight could be fatal. When weapons are involved, the chances of a fatal injury are higher.
When a student is injured during a fight at school, their family will want to hold someone liable for their injuries, including any medical bills. But who is liable for a fight at school? Is it the student who started the fight? The parents? Or does the school and its staff play a role?
If the involved child is under 18, their parents might pick up some of the liability for any injuries or damage caused by their child’s fighting. When a parent is liable for their child’s action, it is called vicarious liability. It is similar to how an employer might be partially responsible for the violent actions of an employee or how a hospital might be responsible for the negligence of a surgeon. Even though the parent was not directly involved in the incident, they can still be accountable. This applies not just to parents, but also to anyone who is a legal guardian, like a grandparent.
If an altercation involves firearms or another weapon, parents or guardians could also be held criminally liable for supplying the weapon or negligently storing it in an accessible place. Additionally, parents or guardians could be found liable if they knew about their child’s dangerous tendencies—like a history of untreated mental illness or incidents at violence at a past school— yet failed to address the issue.
It can be harder to hold a teacher or school staff member liable for injuries sustained during a fight. Though schools act “in loco parentis,” or in place of the parents, during the school day, they are often not liable for what happens at school. This is because they often have no reason to foresee the incident, preventing them from early intervention. However, if it is found that a school employee knew about a fight but failed to prevent it—or worse yet, encouraged it—then they could be liable for any damages.
When kids get into fights at school, it can quickly turn into something worse than just “kids blowing off steam.” It’s important for teachers, parents, and school staff to be aware of violence or bullying happening at their school—not just to protect themselves from liability, but to make school a safer and healthier environment for everyone.
The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.