Autistic girl awarded $354,555 after falling off school roof

Date: May 25, 2017

An autistic girl who scaled her school roof before falling off and suffering serious injuries has brought a successful case in the District Court against the State of New South Wales.

The plaintiff’s mother filed a public liability claim against the academic institution arguing that her daughter fell due to the negligence of teaching staff assigned to provide one-on-one supervision.

According to court documents, the girl was part of the school’s Support Unit, which was a specialist department that catered to special needs children such as the plaintiff.

The school was allegedly aware that the child often tried to scale the roof and had achieved this on separate occasions previously. The girl had difficulty controlling her emotions when stressed because of her autism and anxiety, which resulted in her regularly trying to climb various structures.

The day of the accident

On August 22 2013, the plaintiff – who is now 15 – was taken to a secure ‘time out’ area in a classroom because she was becoming increasingly unruly.

She was extremely agitated and ran away from her supervising teacher before going through a door and accessing a balcony. There, the girl used a wire mesh to climb up onto the roof.

The plaintiff later fell from the roof and fractured the calcaneal bones in her feet, as well as suffering minor lacerations and soft tissue damage.

Several factors were key to deciding the issue of liability. These included whether important school officials were fully aware of the plaintiff’s previous climbing incidents, the reliability of witnesses and if suitable precautions were taken to prevent accidents.

Public liability claim decision

Judge Leonard Levy believed the evidence showed senior teachers, such as the principal, had adequate knowledge that the plaintiff was prone to climbing high structures.

As such, he ruled the institution had a duty of care to keep her safe and failed to fulfil this obligation by not implanting sufficient preventative measures to stop accidents, ultimately resulting in serious injuries to the girl.

Judge Levy awarded $242,000 for non-economic losses – such as pain and suffering – as well as $50,000 for future loss of earning capacity. Future treatment and domestic assistance expenses were estimated at $50,000 in total, with the plaintiff also receiving $12,555 for out-of-pocket costs.

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