Vanderbilt Law Review


Paul O. Proehl

First Page



The tort liability of teacher qua teacher encompasses a rather narrow ambit and is largely restricted to cases in which it is alleged that the right of the teacher to enforce discipline has been abused and that the teacher is therefore liable in damages for the commission of an intentional tort. The question in such a case is whether the teacher has exceeded, or acted outside the scope of, his privilege.A particular common law concept was developed very early here defining the privilege as one deriving from the fact that the teacher stood in loco parentis,' and the privilege still rests principally on that concept, although the content of the Latin phrase has undergone considerable change. Of course, there are many harms resulting from negligence whose setting is peculiar to schools or which happen with greater frequency in schools. If the teacher is the negligent actor whose conduct or omission to act (where he is under a duty to act) has caused the harm, he can find no special rules to raise in his defense--he no longer stands in the place of the parent, who is not liable to his child for negligent harm. Under the common law, which obtains in the majority of states, the teacher in the case of either intentional or negligent tort is the only defendant against whom the injured plaintiff can proceed, since the school-governing authority for various reasons is clothed with immunity, as an attribute of sovereignty and as a result of the classification of public education as a governmental function, because the courts will not allow the diversion of public proceeds to satisfy tort claims, or because the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply. In a few states, the school unit may be sued directly or the teacher may transfer the burden of his liability for negligent, but not intentional, acts to the school-governing body if the act has been committed in the course and scope of the teacher's employment. In both common law and statutory jurisdictions the ordinary rules of negligence are said to obtain. As applied to the teacher in the classroom who negligently injures a pupil the law of negligence does not differ, at least in theory, from that applied to the teacher at home, miles from the school, when he negligently injures a neighbor's child, or fails to come to the aid of the neighbor boy whom he has employed to mow his lawn and who cuts his foot in operating the mower.