Field Trip Injuries & Potential Premises Liability Lawsuits
Not all learning takes place in the classroom. Schools often schedule field trips for children of various ages to places such as museums, zoos, historical sites, or state or national parks. Recognizing the risk of injuries on field trips, schools usually ask parents to sign a waiver or permission slip before their child can participate in the trip. On its face, this form may appear to block all lawsuits against the school, but this is not always the case. While waivers may confer some protection from liability, they do not provide a comprehensive shield for a school that disregards safety. Parents sometimes still can sue if their child was injured because the school failed to keep them safe, depending on the facts of the case and the law in their state.
Talk to a Lawyer
Navigating around a waiver can be challenging, and public schools may have additional distinctive protections from liability. If you are considering suing your child’s school after an injury on a field trip, you should consult a lawyer to find out about the viability of your claim and your possible next steps.
In addition, parents may have a claim against the business or other entity in control of the property where the accident occurred. This would fall within an area of personal injury law known as premises liability.
Premises Liability Claims for Field Trip Injuries
Similar to other personal injury lawsuits, premises liability claims rely on the theory of negligence. This means that the defendant failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances, either by doing something that was unreasonably careless or by failing to take reasonable precautions. A claimant then would need to show that the accident would not have occurred if the defendant had met the applicable standard of care.
Applied to the premises liability context, the standard of care generally requires a property owner to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition, while addressing any hazards of which it knows or reasonably should know. If it cannot repair a hazard, it should warn visitors of its existence and probably block off the area. Deciding whether a property owner should have known about a hazard that caused an accident is highly fact-specific. The magnitude of the hazard and the length of time for which it lasted may shape this analysis. A museum may not be liable if it failed to clean up a spill on the floor of its cafeteria within two minutes. If a zoo knew that the gate to an animal enclosure was broken but failed to fix it for several weeks, the zoo likely would be liable if an animal escaped and injured a child.
Damages in Premises Liability Cases
Compensation for injuries on someone else’s property usually falls into two categories:
Economic damages: medical bills and other out-of-pocket costs resulting from the accident
Non-economic damages: pain and suffering and other intangible harm that the victim endured
The strength of the evidence supporting a premises liability claim may determine its outcome. For example, security camera footage may capture not only how the accident occurred but also when the hazard developed. Maintenance and repair records may indicate the frequency of inspections at a property and show when the owner discovered a hazard. Photos of the accident scene and the injuries, as well as the accounts of witnesses, can further strengthen a claim.
Most premises liability cases result in a settlement, in which the defendant pays compensation to the plaintiff in exchange for releasing their claims related to the accident. The release of claims is generally final, meaning that parents cannot get more compensation later if the initial amount proves to be inadequate. Thus, they should carefully evaluate a settlement offer to decide whether it provides adequate compensation for their child’s injuries. An attorney who has handled similar cases in the past can advise parents on whether an offer is reasonable, considering the facts of their case and the strength of their legal arguments.