A federal trial court held that a school board might be liable for the death of a student's unborn child who died after faculty members forcefully removed the pregnant student from school grounds without provocation.
On Apr. 3, 2008, Candice Williams, a pregnant high school senior, participated in track practice. After practice, Williams was waiting in the hallway just outside the school gym when two school security guards began asking students in the hallway to leave the building. Williams told the guards that she was cold, pregnant and suffering from anemia, and that she wanted to stay inside until her bus arrived. Overhearing the conversation, a teacher told Williams she was trespassing and told the guards to have her removed.
When Williams refused to leave the building, two off-duty police officers forcibly removed her from the premises. Williams alleged the officers pushed, grabbed, dragged, threw her to the ground and then smashed her body into the ground before arresting her for criminal trespass. Williams was tried for the criminal charges and was acquitted.
Williams filed a lawsuit against the school board as well as the individuals involved and alleged that she suffered a miscarriage as a result of the incident. With respect to the school district, Williams alleged that school employees' conduct caused the death of the fetus in that they "encouraged and allowed" the police officers to act in a way that caused the death, and that they refused to seek medical attention for Williams while she was injured on school grounds under their supervision. The school board filed a motion to dismiss Williams' claims.
In the lawsuit, Williams v. Anderson, No. 09-1915 (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Dec. 2, 2010), the school district argued that it did not have a duty to protect Williams or her fetus from the police officers' conduct because the officers were not employees of, or acting under the direction of, the school district. Williams responded that the school employees refused to seek medical attention despite a clear duty to call for medical aide for a student on school property in need of help. The school district countered that Williams was not under the school's supervision when she was injured because the incident occurred after school hours and that the non-employee police officers had taken control and custody of her during the incident.
The district court held that the fact that Williams was in police custody did not necessarily relieve school employees from the duty of calling for medical care, and denied the motion to dismiss because there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the school's failure to call for medical attention may have resulted in the loss of Williams' fetus.
The bottom line, said the court, is that educational institutions, and businesses that assume the care for children, have a responsibility to ensure that its students are granted access to a safe environment. In addition, schools should make sure to have procedures in place to respond to medical emergencies and should make sure employees are informed and trained in the procedures.