You’ve got to be kidding: Chaperone liable for the death of girl on a trip

Every school takes trips and every school trip needs parents. If nothing else it is cruel and unusual punishment to require teachers to spend 24 hours a day with some kids. Most of the time the volunteer parents are called chaperones. These chaperones are volunteering their time to keep track of the students, to keep alcohol away from the students and if trip has students of both sexes around, away from each other.

An arbitrator in a case has found a chaperone liable for the death of a student on a cheerleading trip in the amount of $700,000. See $700,000 verdict gives chaperones pause

The defendant in this case traveled with another chaperone and two cheerleaders to Hawaii. Within hours of arriving the deceased was seen drinking. The deceased was found the next day on hotel grounds. The deceased was 18.

What can one adult do to tell another adult not to do? What was the chaperone supposed to do, call the police? You can tell an adult to do or not do something, but that is about it.

Not much else is said about the deceased or how she died. There is nothing in the article stating the exact legal reasoning or claim the plaintiff argued that lead to the award. Nor are any discussions about defenses such volunteer immunity or a release.

What is going to occur is less people are going to want to volunteer to be chaperones.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself in these situations.

Make sure the school or the school association has liability insurance to protect you. Make sure you have a lot of homeowner’s insurance; normally your homeowner’s insurance is going to be the primary insurance company, or the one out front. Try and get an agreement with the parents stating what you can and cannot do and what you are willing to try. Have the parent’s sign a release. Require parents to provide you with a phone number where they can be reached for the entire trip.

Insist on sufficient chaperones for the number and age of the students. Very young students and teenagers have the same propensity to “wonder away” and get in trouble.

Most importantly don’t put up with anything. Dependent upon the age of the student and what the parent says, deliver the student to the airport, put them on a plane and send them home if they are not obeying the rules. If the parent requires a chaperone to accompany the student home, the parent must agree in advance to pay for the cost of the student and chaperone coming home early.

This article raises a lot of legal questions. Why was the chaperone held liable for the actions of another adult? What duty was breached by the chaperone? We may never know, but school dances just took on a whole new set of worries. Spiking the punch bowl went from a prank to a negligent act.

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4 Comments on “You’ve got to be kidding: Chaperone liable for the death of girl on a trip”

  1. Ashley Morgan says:

    If you are 18 you are an adult. You are getting ready to go off to college. The chaperone should not be the one at fault here. The chaperone couldn’t possibly watch the students all day, every second of the day. Let’s say they did take the alcohol away, if someone wants something bad enough they will find a way to get it. No chaperone, let alone a parent at times, could stop them.

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  2. Seriously? More rules and regulations are going to keep teenagers safer? Don’t rules and regulations become checklists for teenagers? If a parent is concerned then the parent should go on the trip.

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  3. Tori says:

    I think that if you are taking a trip that far away and if you are staying overnight, you should definitely take measures to protect yourself. Talk to the parents and the school and set rules and guidelines. That being said, there was a purpose for the trip; it was not a free-for-all vacation. The whole party should have been together and had an itinerary that did not include “go wherever you want by yourself”

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  4. Here is an article with a lot more detail. The girl fell off a 9th floor balcony from a room belonging to two 19 and 20 year old men. She had a blood alcohol level of 0.17.The chaperone did take some measures to locate her, calling her phone repeatedly and contacting hotel security at 3:30 AM.http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1326669/posts

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