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Can A School Be Sued for a Shooting?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on March 05, 2012 5:02 AM

School shootings can leave communities devastated. They can also leave aching parents looking for a place to lay the blame. As such, school shooting lawsuits have become a common part of mourning, popping up almost immediately after one of these horrifying events.

Many of these suits focus on the school. Victims feel educators and administrators should have done more. While these feelings are valid, do they form the basis of a good lawsuit? Can a parent successfully sue a school for a shooting that killed or injured their child?

These types of lawsuits have historically been met with mixed success for a number of reasons, one of which is the lack of connection between the school's actions and the student's decision to shoot.

School shooting lawsuits against school districts are based on negligence. They accuse administrators of failing to supervise students and secure the school; of ignoring threatening behavior and allowing bullying to escalate.

But to be held liable for such inaction, a plaintiff would have to prove that the district's negligent behavior was the cause of the victim's injuries. This requires two different showings:

  1. Proof that, but for the district's actions, the injury would not have occurred; and
  2. Proof that the injuries were a foreseeable outcome of the district's negligence.

Both of these are difficult to prove. Is the school's failure to conduct random patdowns a necessary cause of the shooting? If the school had reported threatening behavior, would it have really prevented violence?

Moreover, how is it foreseeable that these types of actions would cause an autonomous student to shoot up his school? It probably isn't, which is why even the judge presiding over the Columbine lawsuits dismissed claims against the district.

Still, it might be worth it to file a school shooting lawsuit if the school's behavior was particularly outrageous. The district may choose to settle instead of fight it.

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