Bill seeks to protect schools from ‘unreasonable litigation’

Bill seeks to protect schools from 'unreasonable litigation'

Rónán Mullen

Proposals to protect schools from “unreasonable litigation” in relation to playground accidents is to be brought forward in the Seanad.

The Civil Liability (Schools) Bill 2023, proposed by Independent NUI Senator Rónán Mullen, would give explicit legal protection to schools operating an “appropriate system of supervision” in relation to accidents occurring on the premises of a school.

The bill’s second stage debate in the Seanad is scheduled to take place this evening.

Ahead of the debate, Mr Mullen said: “There is a gap in our law. Up to now, courts have generally been making sensible decisions where cases are brought arising from incidents occurring to children at school. But we cannot just rely on the common sense of the courts.

“There is anecdotal evidence that schools are nervous around schooltime recreational activity, resulting in a conservative approach to playtime activity, and there may also be a fear factor around giving care to children where incidents occur in schools.

“If there are ‘no-running in the yard’ policies at work in schools, this is a problem. Children are meant to run. Given the overtly litigious atmosphere we now live in however, and given the resource pressures schools face, it is not unreasonable to assume that such policies could become the norm unless legislative protection is forthcoming.”

As well as protecting schools, the bill will provide legal protection to teachers “giving assistance or care where they have not acted in bad faith or with gross negligence”.

Mr Mullen said the fact that there have not been many bad outcomes for schools in cases taken against them did not mean there was no problem.

“There is a risk that insurance companies are settling cases because of uncertainty and also because of the difficulty of recovering legal costs from the unsuccessful plaintiffs,” he said.

“Clearer protection for schools and for teachers acting reasonably will hopefully discourage cases that should not be brought, as well as encourage schools and teachers to give appropriate care in the knowledge that they are clearly protected.”

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