Education Code 35330d is the California statute that provides school districts with field trip immunity.
This immunity generally means that school districts are not liable for injuries that persons suffer when on a field trip. “Persons” include:
- teachers, and
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.
1. What is California Education Code 35330d?
Education Code 35330 is the California statute that sets forth school field trip immunity.
The language of the law reads:
“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.” 1
In general, this language means that schools are not liable for injuries sustained on field trips by:
- teachers, or
2. Can injured parties still sue for negligence?
The broad language of EC 35330d does not seem that it would provide schools with 100% immunity on all field trips and 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.
To recover damages in a personal injury suit under a negligence theory, a plaintiff generally needs to prove three things:
- that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care,
- that the defendant breached such duty through a negligent or careless act, and
- that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injury.2
In the context of a field trip, school officials definitely have a duty to keep children reasonably safe during the event.
For a personal injury lawsuit of this nature, the primary question would be if school officials breached this duty. In other words, did negligence occur that would prevent the field trip immunity from working.
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.
3. Can a victim recover damages?
Maybe. A court could award damages if it found that:
- negligence took place, and
- the immunity in EC 35330 did not apply,
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.
4. What is California’s “comparative negligence” law?
California’s comparative negligence law applies in cases where an accident victim’s negligence helped cause his/her injuries.
Under the law, a person injured in an accident can still recover damages even when he or she is partially to blame for the accident. For example, a party who is only 25 percent at fault for causing the accident will only be liable for paying 25% of the damages.3
California is a pure comparative fault state. This means that victims can still recover some damages even if they are 99% at fault for the accident. This contrasts with a modified comparative fault doctrine, applied in some other states, that bars plaintiffs from recovering damages if they are 50% or more at fault.