The parents of a five-year-old boy who allegedly suffered severe burns after he sat on a toilet seat at his elementary school filed a negligence lawsuit against the school earlier this summer. The family is seeking compensation for the damages that were caused by the chemicals. According to a statement from the boy’s mother, she was “horrified to discover that her son had a strip of raw flesh and a burn-like injury with blisters on the back of his thigh” after he returned from school the day of the incident.
According to the lawsuit, another teacher at the school complained about being burned from the toilet seats, although the school has denied the parents access to any reports related to the incident. The boy’s parents have stated that their son was forced to miss two weeks of school after the incident, and they felt compelled to transfer him to a different school out of fear for his safety. This lawsuit is in its early stages, so it is impossible to know if the family will be awarded damages for the boy’s injury, but so far the school district is denying any wrongdoing.
How Sovereign Immunity Can Play into a Lawsuit
Since the school involved in the incident was a public school, the lawsuit must first prove that the school is not immune to the claim under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a long-standing legal doctrine that gives the government and government agencies immunity from a variety of lawsuits against them, including many negligence and personal injury claims. There are, however, many exceptions to the sovereign immunity doctrine that allow private citizens to sue a government entity for certain damages.
The Tort Claims Act
To clarify the law on what government entities could or could not be sued for, the New Mexico Legislature passed the Tort Claims Act (NMSA sections 41-4-1 through 41-4-30) in 1978. The law establishes a general immunity for government agencies from liability, but it establishes exceptions under which a lawsuit is permitted. The section that permits suit against public schools, 41-4-6(a), states as follows: “The immunity granted . . . . does not apply to liability for damages resulting from bodily injury, wrongful death or property damage caused by the negligence of public employees while acting within the scope of their duties in the operation or maintenance of any building, public park, machinery, equipment or furnishings.”
Under this law, a public school can be liable for personal injury caused by the negligence of an employee who is acting within the scope of his or her duties. This requirement is designed to only hold the public agency responsible for conduct that the agency itself could have foreseen. For example, if a janitor uses cleaning agents in a bathroom, it is foreseeable that there could be a spill that would present a danger to the public if not dealt with properly. If a plaintiff can demonstrate that the defendant’s employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment, the defendant is not immune from a lawsuit and can be sued like any other business.
Do You Need to Speak to an Attorney?
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed by a government employee’s negligence, while on public property or in a government building, it can be difficult to know whether it is possible to sue or if the government defendant has immunity from liability. The knowledgeable negligence attorneys at The Fine Law Firm have experience trying many different kinds of personal injury and wrongful death cases, and we can help you collect compensation from the parties that are responsible for your injury, even if it means suing the government itself. Schedule a consultation through our website, or call (585)889-3463 today and see if we can help with your case.
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