If someone slips and falls on a patch of ice in a public school parking lot, and:

  • The victim is not a student
  • The victim was expected to be on the school grounds (i.e. not a "surprise visit" or a "wanderer")
  • It occurred on a school day during school operating hours.
  • The patch of ice was not salted
  • The school should have known that salt should have been applied, due to obvious weather conditions (and they did, since other parts of school property were salted)

is the school liable for the medical bills incurred as a direct result of the injury?

I've researched this online, but almost every article I find speaks only about the school's responsibility to protect its students from injury. I can find very little about the law in the case of a visiting adult non-student.

If the school IS liable, how do I go about collecting? I've already asked the school, and they basically said "no, thank you".

Not sure if it matters, but this particular case is in north-east Ohio.

  • See a lawyer. This site isn't for legal advice – Shazamo Morebucks May 8 '17 at 18:41
  • "I've already asked the school, and they basically said "no, thank you"." Because that's what the attorney for the school district said to say. "How do I go about collecting?" Look in the phone book for a personal injury lawyer; this site does not give legal advice. – BlueDogRanch May 8 '17 at 19:12

A few key points:

  • The only way you can recover anything is with a lawsuit or the threat of a lawsuit.

  • There are special procedural and substantive hurdles involved in suing a governmental entity which is a specialized area of tort law that varies significantly from state to state.

  • It is likely that there is liability under a governmental waiver of the default rule of sovereign immunity in a case like this one, but it is also likely that special notices, court procedures and damages limitations apply to lawsuits brought to obtain this relief. For example, punitive damages are probably barred and other damages may be limited.

The primary statute relevant to a case like this one in Ohio is Ohio Revised Statutes §§ 2744.01-2744.11, a chapter which is entitled "Political Subdivision Tort Liability". ORS § 2744.02(B)(4) states (in the pertinent part) that:

[P]olitical subdivisions are liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the negligence of their employees and that occurs within or on the grounds of, and is due to physical defects within or on the grounds of, buildings that are used in connection with the performance of a governmental function . . . .

ORS § 2744.03(A) provides for a variety of defenses, most of which involve rogue employees, but one of which, (A)(5), provides that:

The political subdivision is immune from liability if the injury, death, or loss to person or property resulted from the exercise of judgment or discretion in determining whether to acquire, or how to use, equipment, supplies, materials, personnel, facilities, and other resources unless the judgment or discretion was exercised with malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner.

There is an unusually strict form of two year statute of limitations set forth at ORS § 2744.04. The damages limitations are set forth at ORS § 2744.05. The liability and process for suits involving government employees is set forth at ORS § 2744.07. There are definitions at ORS § 2744.01 which mostly have the usual and ordinary meaning in the context of your fact pattern. Special procedures govern payment of judgments in cases like these if they are awarded. ORS § 2744.06.

Of course, like any other civil action, once a suit is commenced in a timely fashion by a lawyer in the proper court, there is a good chance that it will be settled before going to trial.

Substantively, the main question before the trier of fact at trial (states vary on the right to a jury trial in suits against them and I don't know what the rule is in Ohio) are as follows:

  1. Did the school district (if the school district indeed owned the parking law) have a duty to use reasonable care to keep the parking lot free of ice?

  2. Was the school district negligent (i.e. did it breach its duty to use reasonable care through its actions)?

  3. Was this negligence the cause of the harm suffered?

  4. What dollar amount is necessary to compensate the victim for the harm caused by the negligence, subject to the applicable damages limitations?

Other provisions govern how the public subdivisions are insured, and generally, in Ohio, the school district would be a separate entity with its own liability arrangements and insurance, and not under the town or municipality as @Cicero suggests in his answer. The way school districts are organized relative to other local governments where he lives is different than the way that it is organized in Ohio.

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Generally speaking it is up to jury. Juries usually make awards only if they think the defendant was grossly negligent or they have some kind of special sympathy for the victim, like the victim is old and blind or something like that. There are numerous factors that can affect the outcome:

(1) How much time elapsed between the snowfall and the accident?

(2) Can the business owner show that they made an effort to clear the snow? (usually they can)

(3) What are the local and state laws? Many localities immunize businesses from lawsuits as long as they plow within a week of the snowfall.

(4) Is the place of the accident a walkway? (A parking lot is not considered a walkway, so that hurts your case.)

You can try going before the town council or mayor and asking for a settlement. Don't talk to the school because they don't care. The town pays for it, not the school. Some larger towns have hearings where they allow people to claim small damages, like a car being damaged by a pothole, for example. This can work for small amounts like $1,000 or $2,000 dollars. For example, if you got a $1,500 medical bill, they might pay that. Usually you need a receipt to get paid. The town will not just give you cash. They will want to see an actually paid invoice for medical services.

You can also trying suing. You will need a personal injury lawyer to do that. (In theory, you could do it yourself, but this would require a LOT of research, time and skill and the type of person that could pull this off wouldn't be asking a question like this.)

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