Local self-government bodies bear financial liability for safety at schools
A schoolteacher failed to extend adequate supervision over pupils during their recess, and a pupil injured another with a knife during a fight. Can a parent of the wounded pupil claim for damages from the self-government entity operating the school?
The answer to a question put in this way is affirmative. Violence among pupils, while not necessarily common, may amount to a serious problem for local self-government bodies. Establishment and operation of schools rests within the ambit of the gminas, or local communities, and the counties. Art 5.7 of the legislative Act of 7 September 1991 regarding the educational system (2004 Dz.U. No 256, item 2572 with subsequent amendments), meanwhile, provides that the authority operating a school is responsible for the school’s operations, and that its duties with respect to the school include ensuring safe, healthy conditions for study, education and care.
To date, pursuit of claims vis a vis local self-government entities by aggrieved parties was generally associated with accidents (as in the verdict by the Appeals Court in Katowice from 25 June 2008, case ref I ACa 333/08). In such instances, liability is rooted in arts 427 and 430 of the Polish Civil Code, and the claim is formulated in terms of improper supervision by teachers or failure to ensure the safety of pupils.
Matters become more complicated when the event causing bodily harm is the result not of an accident, but of deliberate action by another person, especially if that person is using a dangerous implement. There is little in the law which would require teachers to display selfless heroism, risking their own lives to protect the physical integrity of their pupils. In an unpublished verdict from February 2014 (still open to appeal), the Circuit Court in Krakow, ruling on a case in which a schoolgirl attacked another with a knife during recess, held that liability of the local self-government arises if the teachers (in their capacity as employees of the local self-government) did not exercise due supervision over the pupils. While teachers are not bound by an absolute duty to risk life and limb in order to protect their pupils, they should counteract violence if the violence is reasonably foreseeable. In other words, if teachers adopt a dismissive attitude vis a vis suggestions that pupils are suffering personal issues, or if they belittle the fact that a pupil displays a propensity for violence, this may be taken as grounds for liability of the local self-government authority employing them, with possible compensation running in the hundred of thousands of PLN.