Liabilities and Disasters at School

Every school should be prepared to cope with the hazards and disasters of today’s complex world. Earthquakes pose a constant threat. They are unpredictable and strike without warning.

This was driven home with the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. The area around Northridge is mostly residential, and the percentage of large schools located there is relatively small. Of these schools, many sustained heavy damage. What if the epicenter had occurred directly below an area densely populated with schools such as downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle? Is your school prepared for such an event? Will your employees and students, equipment, and assets survive?

Failure to maintain standards of protection opens school administrators and officers to personal liability if losses occur because of their failure to act. School Administrators are expected to perform within the duty of good faith. This is done by doing things known to be right. Conversely, knowingly doing the wrong thing is a violation of good faith. Knowing of risks associated with a damaging earthquake, and doing nothing to prevent these risks, would construe an act of bad faith.

There is no legal defense under the claim that an earthquake is an “act of God” since the fact is that earthquakes are known to occur in your area and therefore they constitute a “foreseeable dangerous condition”. Therefore damage and/or injury resulting from an earthquake at your school is foreseeable and liability can be the result of an act of bad faith.

An administrator’s lack of necessary responsibility constitutes an act of bad faith to that student or employee. Earthquakes are known to cause injuries. Students and employees need the proper emergency provisions. If these are not available and injury or death occurs, the employees and students’ families may now sue the administrator for failing to protect him from this known hazard. Your school could likely be held liable for injuries and damages.

Earthquakes are so expected that insurance companies no longer consider them an “act of God”. They are a foreseeable dangerous condition. Earthquake preparedness information is readily available through phone companies, the Red Cross, etc. Doing nothing is an act of bad faith. Pleading ignorance to earthquakes not acceptable. School administrators that fail to take risk-reducing measures are personally and legally liable to both employees as well as students. Therefore schools must take all precautions to make their facilities as safe as possible for their employees and students or face legal lawsuits from resulting injury or death following the occurrence of an earthquake.

Schools are perhaps of the most vulnerable to earthquakes. It is agreed that the death toll in Northridge would have been substantially higher had it occurred during normal business hours when schools, offices, malls, and parking structures were filled. The possibility of the next quake occurring while schools are in session is great.

What steps the school chooses in caring for their students and employees, and reducing their risks, may determine whether or not this school survives the next catastrophic event.

The recommended strategy to protect oneself from the liability game, especially in situations where superiors refuse to act, is relatively simple. Call our corporation, QUAKE KARE, Inc. to assist you in developing a disaster preparedness plan. We will assist you in identifying your potential risks and offer our complimentary analysis of your specific recommended disaster preparedness needs. Document these specific risks. Make recommendations to purchase these critical supplies and mitigate them. Forward the study to the next level of management. This demonstrates steps taken to reduce your risk, and puts the burden on the next level of management, should they refuse to act on your recommendations. Documentation is the best preparation in such an environment.