School-sponsored travel can be a wonderful education, cultural and bonding experience for students, faculty, and parents. However, schools face potential legal exposure in connection with these trips.
Pre-trip liability waivers for personal or bodily injuries are unenforceable under Louisiana law. Schools can be held liable for bodily injury and personal injury arising out of a failure to properly supervise students, a failure to provide competent drivers, a failure to properly maintain school-owned vehicles and/or for generally placing students in situations that present an unreasonable risk of injury.
Liability can also arise from a school’s failure to warn parents/students of inherent risks associated with certain school-sponsored travel, particularly in foreign countries (e.g., the risk associated with malaria, contaminated water, parasites, substandard means of transportation, substandard medicine, and other health/safety hazards).
In 2017, a verdict was rendered against Hotchkiss School in Connecticut for $41.5 million in favor of a high school student who was stricken with tick-borne viral encephalitis while hiking on Mount Panshan during a school-sponsored trip to China. The student suffered paralysis, physical disabilities, and cognitive impairment. Key to the finding of liability was the school’s failure to warn the parents/students of the known risks and the failure to warn students to wear bug spray.
The lesson to be learned from this case is that parents and students should be apprised of risks and precautions peculiar to the trip being taken. This may include notice of risks associated with sub-standard means of transportation, crime, terrorism, foodborne illnesses, etc. Parents and students should also be encouraged to research risks associated with a region they are visiting and to share their research with the group. The key is to provide sufficient information so that parents can make an informed decision with respect to their willingness to assume known risks on behalf of their children.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.