Archive for the ‘Field Trip’ Category

Bitten – Questions Certified to Supreme Court on Huge Jury Verdict for Student Stricken by Illness on School Tour (CT)

October 16, 2015

Munn v. Hotchkiss (Connecticut)

A fifteen-year-old freshman at a private boarding school participated in a month-long summer program in China organized by the school.  Prior to participating in the program, the school sent the student and her parents a packet outlining the activities and a set of legal forms requesting that the parents waive legal claims against the school.  The school also sent medical advice regarding the trip, including a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) webpage and a note that the school’s infirmary could “serve as a travel clinic.”  However, the CDC website reference was incorrect and the infirmary was unable to provide independent medical advice.  The school also later sent an itinerary, a packing list (including a general reference to “bug spray”), and a handbook on international travel.  However, there were no specific warnings about insect-borne diseases where health risks were mentioned in the materials.

During the program, the students went on a weekend excursion without any bug sprays warnings being given.  After walking through trees and brush, the student had numerous bug bites and an itchy welt on her left arm.  Ten days later, the student awoke with a headache, fever, and wooziness.  Her condition deteriorated and she was taken to the hospital.  Eventually, the student’s parents traveled to China from the United States to be with her in the hospital.  She was severely ill and partially paralyzed, and was airlifted back to New York.  The student was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (“TBE”), a viral infectious disease that affects the central nervous system.  She lost the ability to speak and lost cognitive function, although she managed to live a functional life, finishing high school and attending college.

The student and her parents filed a diversity action in federal court against the school, alleging that the school was negligent in the planning and supervision of the trip.  Plaintiffs claimed that the school failed to warn them about the risks of viral encephalitis and failed to provide her with protective clothing, bug spray, or vaccinations.  They also alleged that the school failed to provide medical personnel on the trip and failed to establish procedures for medical emergencies.  The defendant school argued that the “Agreement Waiver, and Release of Liability” form that was signed by the student’s parents prior to the program precluded liability, but the District Court excluded the document, finding that its language was ambiguous and that it was contrary to public policy under Connecticut law.

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Let It Snow – Triable Issue Existed as to Whether Nine Year Old That Collided with Snowmaking Machine Assumed the Risk (PA)

August 19, 2015

MD ex rel Mora-Dillon v. Ski Shawnee (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff was a nine year old girl that participated in a ski trip with her elementary school as a novice skier with no skiing experience other than three lessons.  As she was skiing down one of the slopes, she collided with a snowmaking machine, suffering several bone fractures and other injuries.  Plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the ski resort, contending that the resort failed to adequately place padding on the metal components of the snowmaking machine.  The ski resort filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it had no duty to protect plaintiff from the inherent risks associated with downhill skiing.  Defendant argued that even though plaintiff had no knowledge of the risk presented, the plaintiff implicitly assumed the risk of colliding with snowmaking equipment, negating any duty it had to plaintiff. (more…)

Tragedy at the Beach – State Not Liable for Youth Killed by Collapsed Sand (CA)

July 27, 2015

Buchanan v. California Department of Parks and Recreation (California)
(unpublished opinion)

A seventeen year old boy and his brother participated in a church youth group outing to Sunset State Beach in California.  During the outing, the boy and another member of the church group “created an unnatural condition that was not common to nature and would not naturally occur in that location, in that they were engaged in digging large holes in the sand in a picnic area being used by the church group, which was located within the park boundaries, separated from the beach by sand dunes, but within sight of a nearby elevated life guard station.”  The sand collapsed, burying and killing the boy.  A lawsuit was filed by the boy’s family, with the amended complaint alleging two causes of action.  First, the plaintiffs alleged that the California Department of Parks and Recreation (“DPR”) employees observed (or should have observed) the digging activities and they had a duty to warn the boy and the group of the known risks.  Second, the boy’s brother alleged a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a bystander that witnessed the incident.

The DPR filed a demurrer to the amended complaint, asserting that the complaint failed to show that it owed a duty to the plaintiff and that statutory government immunity applied.  The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend based on the Hazardous Recreational Activity immunity found in Government Code Section 831.7, and it entered a judgment of dismissal in favor of the defendant.  Plaintiffs appealed. (more…)

Teachable Moment – Claims of Student Chaperon Injured While Whitewater Rafting Barred by Release (PA)

June 10, 2015

McDonald v. Whitewater Challengers, Inc. (Pennsylvania)

The plaintiff (a New York resident) was a school teacher who chaperoned seventh and eighth grade school children on a whitewater rafting field trip with other faculty members.  While she was rafting, her raft struck a large rock, causing her personal injury.  Plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against against the whitewater facility, alleging that the facility failed to provide a river guide/instructor in her boat, failed to provide a properly inflated raft, failed to advise her on the grade/class of whitewater rapids she would encounter, failed to instruct her on how to safely and effectively maneuver the rapids, and allowed an unsafe number of inexperiences rafters in the boat.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the waiver and release agreement signed by plaintiff prior to her participating in the rafting.  The trial court denied the motion.  Following further discovery, plaintiff then filed a motion for partial summary judgment arguing that New York law (and not Pennsylvania law) should be applied to the facts, and defendant filed a second motion for summary judgment.  Applying Pennsylvania law, the trial court denied both motions.  While the court acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously “affirmed the validity of such exculpatory releases in inherently dangerous recreational activities,” the court held that there were “material issues of fact existed regarding whether she was economically compelled to sign the release” by her employer/school.  The parties filed petitions for permission to file an interlocutory appeals, which were granted.

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More Bad News for Minor Sports

December 17, 2010

Galloway v. State (Iowa)
(14-year-old injured on an educational field trip; Supreme Court of Iowa rules that public policy precludes enforcement of parents’ pre-injury waiver on behalf of minor.)

The 14-year-old plaintiff was struck by a car while crossing the street during an educational field trip organized by the University of Northern Iowa and the State of Iowa. Prior to participation in the event, the plaintiff’s mother signed both a “Field Trip Permission Form” and a “Release and Medical Authorization.” Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the State, alleging negligence. The State filed a motion for summary judgment based on the documents signed by the mother, and the District Court ruled that the released constituted a valid waiver of claims, granting the motion. Plaintiff appealed, and the Iowa Supreme Court ultimately reversed the ruling. After balancing public policy interests against the need to enforce contracts, the Supreme Court explained that although deference is given to parents’ decisions affecting the control of their children, such deference has limitations in some contexts.

The court noted that “children must be accorded a measure or protection against improvident decisions of their parents.” The Court also considered the “harsh consequences of preinjury releases,” and noted that there is “a clear majority of other courts deciding such releases are unenforceable.” The State argued that as a result of the Court’s ruling, “recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities for youths will cease because organizations sponsoring them will be unable or unwilling to purchase insurance or otherwise endure the risks of civil liability.” However, the Court asserted that “the fear of dire consequences from our adoption of the majority rule is speculative and overstated,” noting that they found no reason to believe that such opportunities had been comprised in those other jurisdictions.

NOTE: With this ruling, Iowa joins more than 15 other jurisdictions with similar reulings against minor waiver and release agreements. Approximately 11 jursidictions have case law or statutes speaking favorably to minor agreements, while the remainder of jurisdictions remain undecided. The current trend across the country seems to be against enforcement of preinjury waiver and release agreements signed by parents on behalf of minors participating in recreational activities.