Does the responsibility placed upon a school for the actions of its students eliminate worker’s compensation tort immunity when a student injures a teacher? The answer is no, according to the recent decision in the Field v. Lafayette Parish School Board, 2016 WL 6609839 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/9/16).
In Field, a pregnant teacher was injured when she attempted to halt an altercation between two students. When one of her students attempted to go out into the hallway to fight, the plaintiff/teacher blocked the classroom door and was struck multiple times by the student.
In defending the suit, the school board argued that the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy was worker’s compensation and that the school’s conduct did not constitute the “intentional act” needed to evade immunity. In turn, the plaintiff claimed that, pursuant to Civil Code article 2320, the school system was vicariously liable for the student’s conduct and therefore responsible, even if the school board’s own conduct was not “intentional.” Rejecting the plaintiff’s argument, the Third Circuit determined that the school board could not be held liable without the requisite finding of an intentional act.
According to the Field court, the school’s knowledge of prior disciplinary issues with the student and its decision to re-admit the student did not amount to an “intentional act” sufficient to vitiate the worker’s compensation immunity. Citing to cases such as Reeves v. Structural Preservation Systems, 731 So. 2d 208 (La. 1999), the court found that “believing someone may, or even probably will, eventually get hurt if a workplace practice is continued does not rise to the level of an intentional act.” To quote the trial judge, “there’s a big gap between … not following their procedures, negligence, even gross negligence, and intentional act.”