Teachers and Schools Beware – Kids are owed a duty of care

November 2nd, 2011 by

While physical education has been and will continue to be a critical part of grade school, teachers and administrators mustn’t forget their responsibility to care for their students beyond the boundaries of the classroom. In a 2009 Supreme Court of British Columbia case, Hussak v. School District No. 33 (Chilliwack), the court found that a gym teacher had failed to ensure that the injured plaintiff, one of his students, had been adequately trained in a sport that he was forced to participate in as part of the school curriculum. The plaintiff was partaking in a field hockey game, with no prior training in the sport, and was unintentionally struck in the face by another player. The plaintiff suffered a concussion, soft tissue bruising and swelling, and lacerations to several parts of his face. Unfortunately, these injuries persisted for years, and the plaintiff developed a serious chronic pain disorder, which included ongoing migraines, distorted vision, body tremors, muscle aches, and severe chest pain.

The main finding of this case was the establishment of a four-part test for determining whether or not a teacher meets a standard of care threshold:

a) whether the activity was suitable to the age and mental and physical condition of the student;
b) whether the student was progressively trained and coached to do the activity properly and to avoid the danger;
c) whether the equipment was adequate and suitably arranged; and
d) whether the performance, having regard to its inherently dangerous nature, was properly supervised.

The court found that the plaintiff student, having missed all the classes related to field hockey training, lacked the essentials skills necessary to participate in the sport, and that the gym teacher should have prevented him from participating with the class that afternoon.

As negligence on the part of the plaintiff was ruled out, and the injuries were found to be caused by the field hockey incident, the plaintiff was awarded substantial damages for pain and suffering, past and future income loss, and future care costs.

While school yard sports aim to be inclusive, and provide the opportunity for all students, regardless of athletic ability or interest, to participate, schools and teachers must remember their obligation to prevent students from falling behind and suffering the consequences.

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