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Are schools liable for injuries during field trips?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Feb 12, 2019 | 0 Comments

california school field trip
Depending on the facts of the case, a field trip taker could try to obtain compensation for injuries incurred by showing that the school was negligent in the course of the field trip.

Education Code 35330(d) is the California statute that provides school districts with field trip immunity.

This immunity generally means that school districts are not liable for any injuries that persons suffer when on a field trip. “Persons” include:

  • students,
  • teachers, and
  • chaperones.

Please note, however, that despite this immunity, an injured party on a field trip could still try to sue a school for negligence. California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others.

Depending on the facts of the case, a field trip taker could try to obtain compensation for injuries incurred by showing that the school was negligent in the course of the field trip.

What is California Education Code 35330(d)?

Education Code 35330 is the California statute that sets forth field trip immunity for schools.

According to EC 35330(d):

“All persons making the field trip or excursion shall be deemed to have waived all claims against the district, a charter school, or the State of California for injury, accident, illness, or death occurring during or by reason of the field trip or excursion.”

In general, this language means that schools are not liable for injuries sustained on field trips by:

  • students,
  • teachers, or
  • chaperones.

Can injured parties still sue for negligence?

The broad language of EC 35330(d) does not seem that it would provide schools with 100% immunity on all field trips, under all circumstances. Depending on the facts of a case, an injured party could try to hold a school liable for field trip injuries under a negligence theory.

In order to recover damages in a personal injury case in California, a plaintiff generally needs to prove three things:

  1. that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. that the defendant breached such duty through negligence; and
  3. that the defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injury.

In the context of a field trip, school officials definitely have a duty to keep children reasonably safe during the event. The major question, for a personal injury lawsuit of this nature, would be if this duty was breached. In other words, did negligence occur that would prevent the field trip immunity from working. And, it seems possible.

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. It seems that some form of negligence could take place that would still impose liability on a school for field trip injuries. While liability would depend on the facts of a case, some factors that could influence a court's decision are:

  • the location of the field trip,
  • the trip's duration,
  • the age of the students,
  • work title, or role, of the negligent party, and
  • the duties of the negligent party.

Would damages get awarded?

If a court determined that:

  1. negligence took place, and
  2. the immunity in EC 35330 did not apply,

then it could award the injured party with damages.

These damages are referred to as “compensatory damages” and work to compensate the injured person for any loss incurred. Compensatory damages include:

  • economic” (pecuniary) damages, such as medical bills, property damage and lost wages, and,
  • "non-economic" damages, such as pain and suffering.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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