Injuries Off School Grounds and School Liability
Posted in Legal Questions on December 16, 2016
When your child suffers an injury away from the home, your first question is likely, “Who is responsible?” Parents trust their children to the hands of teachers, supervisors, and school staff under the assumption that school employees will do what’s in the child’s best interests.
Unfortunately, negligent school employees all too often fail to adequately supervise students. Understanding the rules of school liability in cases of injuries that occur off school grounds requires knowledge of the California Education Code.
Education Code Section § 44808 and School District Liability
CA Education Code Section § 44808 protects a school district from liability in most cases involving injuries that occur off campus. This section removes responsibility of supervising children off campus from the shoulders of the county superintendent of schools, school districts, city and county boards of education, and officers and employees of districts and boards.
Education Code Section § 44808 states that those parties will in no way be liable or responsible for the safety or conduct of public school pupils when they aren’t on school property. There are, however, marked exceptions to this rule. Here are a few cases that have dealt with school liability and off-grounds accidents and how the California courts ruled:
- Children who leave school early. School employees are responsible for ensuring that students who want to leave campus before the school day ends can’t do so. In Hoyem v. Manhattan Beach City Sch. Dist., the California Supreme Court held that the school district could be liable when a student attending summer school left the grounds early, without permission, and sustained injuries when struck by a motorcyclist at a nearby intersection. Even though his injuries occurred off campus, negligent supervision permitted the child to leave campus without permission.
- Children waiting for pickup. School employees have a duty to provide reasonable care for students’ safety and wellbeing after school hours and beyond campus. This includes while children wait for pickup, within reason. However, in one case (Guerrero v. South Bay Union School District) the courts found the district not guilty of negligence when a car struck a six-year-old student who was waiting for pickup on a street next to the school. The courts found that the district didn’t owe a duty of care to the plaintiff since the student was on a public street – not in the location designated for child pickup.
- Dangerous conditions on public property. A school district must keep its property safe and free from hazards. In Joyce v. Simi Valley Unified School District, the courts upheld a verdict against the school district for unsafe property conditions, even though the accident occurred off school grounds. A vehicle struck a 13-year-old girl in a marked crosswalk on her way to school. The plaintiffs alleged an open gate through which the school welcomed students into the schoolyard was a dangerous condition. It encouraged students to use a crosswalk that didn’t have walk signals on a busy street.
There are several other off-grounds situations that could lead to assigning responsibility with the school district, including when districts have undertaken to provide students transportation, during school-sponsored off-grounds activities and programs, and criminal assaults by third parties. Each case is different and deals with a variety of rules regarding negligence, premises liability, and duties of care to students.
Field Trips and School Liability
California gives special immunity to school districts during field trips and excursions. Unlike other off-grounds school-sponsored activities, the courts typically won’t hold the school liable for injuries or deaths occurring during “visits students and supervisors make for firsthand observation,” or “journeys chiefly for recreation.” While there are exceptions, the “field trip immunity” protects schools and school districts on such off-campus trips and excursions.