Q: Am I negligent?
I am a teacher. A student came to me in the last 15 minutes of the day and asked to go to the nurse and said that she thinks she hurt her arm at recess (we had just come in). The student’s demeanor did not appear to be stressed/hurting and there were no obvious indications of trauma. No bruising, swelling, redness, cuts, or abrasions. The student also played throughout recess and did not come to me indicating she had gotten hurt. I determined there was not an immediate cause for concern and that if it was still hurting when she got home it would be best for her to let her mom know. I told the student that she was going home in 15 minutes and that she could let mom know when she got home. She said ok and went back to her seat. Unfortunately the next day I found out her arm continued to hurt once she got and it was fractured. Was this an unreasonable response of me? Am I negligent?
A: I understand your concern. I think your chances of real liability here approach zero. First, your response was reasonable. The student's behavior and lack of visible symptoms could have led you to believe that the injury was not severe. Second, it is extremely unlikely that treating these injuries earlier would have made a difference. It is the rare simple fracture - which is what this sound like - would have a better outcome with just slightly earlier treatment.
A: I agree with Mr. Miller’s answer, but would add that the age of the child may play a factor in what may have been a more appropriate choice. As far as personal liability for the child’s parents making a claim for damages, there is likely no case there. As far as a negative employment consequence of the school taking disciplinary action or placing a negative performance review in your personnel file, that would require a lot more facts and understanding of the rules and regulations in place governing such a situation in the school. If you are a member of a teacher’s union you should seek legal guidance from them, as well as seek advice of an employment lawyer.
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