A Florida teacher sexually assaulted by an 18-year-old student is trying to collect on a $3 million settlement from her former employer, the Miami-Dade School District, accused of endangering her and breaking the law, opening the door to a violent attack and serious injuries. Although sovereign immunity laws cap liability for government agencies (like school district) at $200,000 per individual, more can be awarded through the passage of a state lawmaker claims bill, for which the district lobbied and a legislator from Broward has already sponsored.
As Miami school injury lawyers, we are struck by a few different unique elements in this case. Firstly, most school assault injury lawsuits in Florida involve students who are either injured by other students or teachers. Schools unquestionably owe a duty of care to students over whom they have control and can be held liable in some circumstances for criminal assaults that occur on school property or are the perpetuated by school employees or contractors. It’s less common that claims are filed by teachers suffering injury by student. Not that it’s unheard of. An article published last year in Education Week revealed an estimated 6 percent of the nation’s nearly 4 million teachers were attacked by a student during the 2015-2016 school year. Another 10 percent were threatened with violence by a student. The article also highlighted a 2017 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence indicating female teachers were more likely to be attacked than male teachers, with new teachers especially vulnerable to threats and violence.
This case hit all those marks. However, teacher injuries sustained in the course and scope of employment – whether a slip-and-fall or an attack by a student – are typically covered by no-fault workers’ compensation. For most work accidents and work injuries, this will be the exclusive remedy (only legal recourse) a teacher or school employee has against an employer district. Work injury exclusive remedy in Florida is spelled out in F.S. 440.11. The only exception is when the actions of an employer, as proven by clear and convincing evidence, reveal the employer deliberately intended to hurt the employee OR engaged in conduct employer knew (based on prior similar accidents or explicit warnings specifically identifying a known danger) was virtually certain to result in an employee injury or death AND that risk of danger wasn’t apparent to employee AND employer deliberately misrepresented or concealed the danger to prevent the employee from making an informed judgment about whether to perform the work.
Since changes were made to this state law in 2003, zero Florida work injury cases have met this exception to exclusive remedy threshold. Arguably, there is a good chance this teacher injury case might have met the proof burden, which is likely why the district chose to settle the case pre-trial for an amount in significant excess of statutory damage caps.
District Seeks Millions in Compensation for Assaulted Teacher
In 2014, when this attack occurred at a Miami-Dade High School, claimant was a new teacher hired to work with hearing-impaired students in 2012, but the district reassigned her in 2012 to a position teaching children with emotional and behavioral disorders. This was the school’s first egregious mistake because the teacher was not properly trained for such a position. She was not given self-defense courses, which is a mandate for teachers who work with such high-risk populations – particularly those with a history of violence.
The attacker in this case was 18. During the previous school year, he was repeatedly suspended and eventually expelled for a number of confrontations wherein he threatened to harm school officials and other students. In the spring, he was arrested for written threats to kill/ maim, and he was found competent to stand trial for that alleged offense. Within three months, however, he was enrolled in plaintiff’s school, in plaintiff’s classroom. She knew nothing of his history – and, as The Miami New Times notes, the district broke the law when it failed to tell the teacher all this.
The attack occurred less than one month into the school year, with the student cornering the victim in a classroom, choking her unconscious, sexually assaulting her and then grabbing her cell phone and car keys before fleeing in her vehicle. He was caught later that day, arrested, convicted and sentenced to more than two decades behind bars.
Plaintiff sued the school district, which paid the victim $200,000. The school’s insurer paid her another $1.5 million – the policy limit. Now, the school is asking the state to pay another $1.3 million on its behalf to the victim, for a total compensation of $3 million.
If you are a teacher – or student – who has suffered injury due to a criminal attack at a Miami-Dade County school or at the hands of someone employed by the school, contact an experienced Miami-Dade injury lawyer for information about your legal options.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
The Role of the Perceptions of School Climate and Teacher Victimization by Students, July 27, 2017, Journal of Interpersonal Violence
More Blog Entries:
Worker Injury in Defective Ladder Fall Spurs Lawsuit Against Hotel-Casino, Sept. 29, 2018, Miami Personal Injury Lawyer Blog