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personal injury liability

Students occasionally suffer personal injuries on school grounds or during school activities. These injuries may result from a variety of circumstances, including slips and falls (premises liability); fights; athletic activities; exposure to asbestos, lead, or other toxic materials; sexual abuse; food poisoning; and school bus accidents.

Teachers and other school officials have a legal obligation to adequately supervise students on school property (during school hours) and while engaged in school activities. School officials also have a duty to conduct background checks when hiring teachers, coaches, and staff. And school officials are required to keep the school premises in a reasonably safe condition.

But because public schools are governmental entities, they usually have limited liability for personal injuries due to a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity (also known as governmental immunity) in American law was derived from the British common law doctrine that the King could do no wrong—and thus could not be sued. Sovereign immunity varies from state to state but typically applies to state governments as well as the federal government.

For example, sovereign immunity protects the state and its various provisions of state government—including agencies, boards, hospitals, schools, and universities—from liability and from suit—unless the immunity has been waived. Similarly, sovereign immunity protects political subdivisions—including counties, cities, and school districts—from liability and from suit—unless the immunity has been waived.

Thus, sovereign immunity encompasses two principles: (1) immunity from suit and (2) immunity from liability. Immunity from suit bars a suit against the state or other governmental entity unless the Legislature expressly gives consent. Immunity from liability protects the state or other governmental entity from judgments even if the legislature has expressly given consent to sue.

Federal and state governments (generally the U.S. Congress and state legislatures) do have the ability to waive their sovereign immunity. Waivers of sovereign immunity are usually included in state and federal statutes and interpreted and applied by state and federal courts in court opinions.

A party may establish legislative consent by referencing a statute or a resolution granting express legislative permission. Legislative consent to sue the state or other governmental entity must be expressed in clear and unambiguous language.

Private schools do not have the protection of sovereign immunity and may be liable for personal injuries unless otherwise provided by a state’s statutes.

In Texas, public schools, as governmental entities, are generally protected by sovereign immunity, which limits their liability for personal injuries that occur on school grounds or during school activities. This immunity extends to various circumstances such as slips and falls, fights, athletic activities, and other incidents. However, Texas law does allow for this immunity to be waived in certain situations. The Texas Tort Claims Act provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for personal injuries caused by the negligence of school employees acting within the scope of their employment, provided that the injury arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or equipment, or from a condition or use of tangible personal or real property. Teachers and school officials are required to supervise students, conduct background checks, and maintain safe premises. Private schools in Texas do not have sovereign immunity and can be held liable for personal injuries unless specific state statutes provide otherwise. To sue a public school or governmental entity in Texas, there must be express legislative consent, which is typically found in statutes or resolutions and must be clear and unambiguous.

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