Recently, an upstate high school settled a personal injury lawsuit that was brought by one of its students, who sustained serious personal injuries, including second-degree burns to his arms, when a chemistry experiment that required the chemicals that the students were mixing caught fire.

The natural question that arises from this case is (or should be) this: why is the school responsible for this accident?

The answer to this question lies in negligence and its interplay with the doctrine of vicarious liability. As we've noted in our articles "How To Prove Your School Negligence Case" and "School Must Notify Parent of Threat To Child, Court Holds," during school hours, the school stands in the place of  the child's parents, and therefore has an important duty to act reasonably protect the well-being of its students. But, you ask, in this case it seems like the teacher was negligent - not the school; so why should the school be held responsible for the teacher's negligence?

Because of vicarious liability. Under this doctrine (also known in legalese as "respondeat superior"), an employer is liable for its employees' negligent acts that are committed in the regular course of their employment. Interestingly (and although it is beyond the scope of this particular post), New York's courts have indicated that an employer can even be held liable for its employees' acts that are committed outside the scope of their employment if the employer was negligent in either opting to hire this employee in the first instance, or for keeping them on after the time that it became clear that they were unsuitable to remain an employee of the company.

Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
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