You’ve got to be kidding: Chaperone liable for the death of girl on a tripPosted: October 30, 2008
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.
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.