Physical-education teachers who approach teaching tasks carelessly are jeopardizing their careers. A student is injured in a class left momentarily unattended. Students are asked to do activities for which they have had insufficient progressive lead-up activities. Equipment designed and manufactured for one purpose is used for a different purpose.

A child is hurt in floor hockey because rules of participation about “high sticking” were not made clear and enforced in recent years; each of these situations has resulted in a liability suit.

Not too long ago, it was common to see students in physical education getting instruction on a trampoline. No more! Trampolines sometimes result in injury.

Injured students, and their parents, began to sue teachers and school boards. So often did courts hold teachers and school boards liable for negligence in the use of the trampoline that this piece of equipment began to disappear from physical education.


Legal liability has become a fact of daily life for physical educators in the past several decades. Physical education often involves activities in which there is some risk to students.

Teachers need to be aware of the risks involved and to take proper precautions to safeguard students from those risks. If those precautions are taken, then teachers have acted as reasonable, prudent persons, minimizing any chance that a court will find them negligent.

In one sense the entire era of liability and its rash of malpractice suits have greatly improved professional practice in a number of areas, teaching included. Teachers pay more attention to the procedures they develop and supervise students more carefully.

They plan activities and relate them to the curriculum syllabus more thoughtfully. They think about safety when designing instruction. They are more sensitive to the skills students bring to an activity, and they try to build on those skills.


They keep equipment in better repair and use it only for the purposes for which it was manufactured. If a teacher fails to do any of these things, and if it can be shown that an injury resulted from this omission, then the teacher may be considered to have been negligent in his or her professional duties.

The main negative effect of the era of liability is that some teachers choose not to do certain activities because of perceived liability risks. Most adventure programs operate safely, with few student injuries-often fewer than are sustained in a regular physical-education program.

With proper equipment and instruction, adventure activities can be undertaken without undue concern about liability issues. Yet, because they appear to be riskier than typical activities, some teachers shy away from incorporating them within the curriculum.