This case involves an 8th-grade student who was taking a science class. The student’s teacher used an activity plan that required students to use scalpels to dissect the reproductive parts of a flower. The teacher started the class using standard lab instructions and told the students that they would be using scalpels and that the scalpels were very sharp. The teacher told the students that they needed to be careful and that there shouldn’t be any “goofing off” going on while they were using the scalpels. The teacher also told the students to be very serious while they were working because the scalpels were sharp and told them that they should put the caps back on the scalpels when they were done working. Before the student’s class, two other students had been cut while using the scalpels. It was the student’s first time using a scalpel and he tried to pull the protective cap off the scalpel because the cover was stuck. When the student pulled harder on the cap, the scalpel suddenly broke free and cut him. The scalpel cut through two of the student’s fingers and severed one of his tendons. The student had to have reconstructive surgery. The student’s parents sued the school district for negligence.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Can a school district be held liable for an injury suffered by a student if a teacher allows students to work with sharp tools during a lab class?
Expert Witness Response
Since other students had previously been cut by the scalpels in class, the teacher in this case was required to fill out accident report forms where she had to make recommendations about preventing future accidents of this type. This means that the teacher would have stated on the accident report forms that students should limit scalpel use or be required to use only scissors instead of scalpels. Since the teacher chose not to use scissors in the rest of her classes, this was most likely negligent. Proper procedure in this case required that the teacher should be the only person to use a scalpel for dissection and that all scalpels be removed from the students and only scissors be used in the classes. In injury cases involving students, teachers are usually held to be in positions like “parents” and are required to instruct and warn students about any dangers that they know about. Also, teachers have a duty to instruct students about safety measures to avoid these dangers. If the teacher decided to use scalpels in this case, she was required to take more precautions and carefully demonstrate how to take the caps off the scalpels and to instruct the students about what a “sharp object” means.