Holding Parents Liable For Shootings Not New, But Also Schools?

Holding Parents Liable For Shootings Not New, But Also Schools?
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Holding Parents Liable For Shootings Not New, But Also Schools?; Civil Liability for Both Parents and Responsible School Officials Clear

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Parents Charged For School Shootings

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 3, 2021) - Michigan prosecutors have charged the parents of a boy who shot and killed four students with involuntary manslaughter, but that may be only part of the quest for justice.

Based upon the facts which prosecutor Karen D. McDonald recited, the parents would clearly be civilly liable for the deaths and other harms caused by their son, and a strong case for negligence could also be made against the school and against the specific individuals in the school responsible for sending the boy back to classes with a backpack which likely contained a gun, suggests public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Faced with a drawing clearly indicating a child's serious mental disturbance and violent tendencies, and uncooperative parents apparently unwilling to take appropriate action, sending the boy back to his classes, and not searching his backpack and his school locker if one was assigned, appears to be grossly negligent, given the gravity of the threat based upon the facts as they were then known to the school authorities.

Modern law makes it clear that schools have a legal responsibility to take all reasonable steps to protect children from harms which are foreseeable, and harms from a student shooters are now clearly foreseeable.

In determining what is reasonable, school officials must look at the seriousness of the foreseeable harm and the probability that it might occur, and balance that against the burden of steps which could prevent it.

The Threat Of Death

Here, given the threat of death clearly presented by the boy's drawing - which the school obviously recognized since it immediately summoned the child's parents to appear - and the unwillingness of the parents to take appropriate action under the circumstances, there were many very reasonable actions the school could and should have taken, suggests Banzhaf.

These include either searching the boy's backpack or having it removed from school grounds AND not allowing him to remain anywhere on school grounds, much less allow him to interact with other students AND immediately summoning the appropriate authorities who probably would have arrested him and/or had him involuntarily committed for psychiatric observation and evaluation - any one of which would almost certainly have prevented this tragedy.

While society cannot expect schools to prevent all shootings, or to become fortresses to help insure safety, it can hold them civilly responsible when they fail to take simple and obvious steps to deal with a specific situation in which the danger of death was both very clearly foreseeable and very easily preventable, says the law professor.

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