In Missouri, a school district can be liable for damages for negligence that causes injuries to a student or other individual. School district employees are protected by a form of qualified immunity from personal liability for their negligence in causing the student’s personal injury. If the district employee acts with recklessness, malice or gross negligence, the protection of qualified immunity may be lost.

These negligence rules are relevant to a lawsuit that is going forward against the Springfield Public Schools regarding severe and permanent injuries suffered by a student at a back-to-school event at Kickapoo High School in Aug. 2010. The event involved a slide-on-water event as part of the festivities, but students dug up an area beyond that area and created a large swamp of mud. The plaintiff was a 17-year-old student and cheerleader who attended the event. Other students pushed her into the mud pool and others jumped on top of her in a free-for-all pile-on. She screamed and screamed for help as she could not breathe but to no avail.

When she was pulled out of the pit, the principal tried to avoid calling an ambulance. The district has denied any liability in the lawsuit. Recently, the trial judge released the principal from personal liability due to his qualified immunity defense. The judge basically stated that the principal had to make a snap judgment in an emergency and there was no evidence of willfulness, malice or bad faith by him.

The plaintiff suffered various neurological injuries, along with four strokes as a result of the events. She now claims permanent brain injury and cognitive decline. Part of the negligence allegations against the Missouri school district is that it did not supervise nor did it observe that there was an unreasonably dangerous condition that had occurred. School officials had written prior to the event that mud created a frenzy and was a high risk for personal injury,  so that proving negligence does not appear difficult to do in these circumstances.