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School Field Trip/Excursion Liability Waivers - Definitive Guide (and downloads)

School Trips

Contents

What is a school field trip/excursion waiver?

Whenever schools take students on a field trip or excursion, it is standard practice to request that parents/guardians sign a waiver of liability before allowing their child on the trip. The waiver states that no parent, agent, or representative of parent will sue the school for any damages that occur during the trip.

What is the purpose of the waiver?

The purpose of the waiver is to protect the school or organization from any legal action that may arise from the field trip/excursion. For example, if a student on a field trip is hurt and the parent of that student sues the school or organization, the organization can claim that the parent waived or released its liability for any injuries and avoid having to pay the parent damages.

As long as we take appropriate precautions with the pupils, is a waiver really necessary?

It is good practice to have a waiver in place, as it gives a clear indication of the school's intent. Without a waiver, the school's liability could remain open and undefined. Whilst many trips are simple and predictable with little real risk of harm, there is always a possibility of something going wrong such as a car accident on the way from or to the destination.

Other activities, such as canoeing and climbing, have inherent danger and it's very important that the parents are aware of these specific dangers so they're able to give their permission before their children embark on the activity.

Is a parental permission slip sufficient instead of a waiver?

There are particular terms that are better covered by a waiver than a permission slip. If you are using a permission slip instead of a waiver, you may not be protecting yourself fully - for example a permission slip does not state that the school is not responsible for any injury or damage that occurs during the trip.

What degree of protection does the waiver provide the school/organisation?

Whilst waivers can be legally enforceable, they are far from bulletproof. That being said they do provide a good first line of defense for the school, as they clearly states the school's intent, the risks of the school trip or excursion, and the parents' agreement to the limitation of the school's liability.

One issue with liability waivers concerning minors under 18, is that in many courts parents/guardians can't fully waive the rights of their child - only their own rights. That means that the school may still be sued by the child in their own name.

It is, however, more effective where the school can prove that it acted with reasonable care and concern for the safety of its students. It is less effective in cases of negligence, particularly in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct:

  • Negligence is when the school does not use reasonable care and concern for the safety of its students. For example, if a teacher does not supervise the students properly, has a student stand on a bench, and the student falls and is injured, the teacher has not used reasonable care to ensure the safety of the students and may be liable.
  • Gross negligence is a higher standard for the school to meet as it requires proof that the school acted with a reckless disregard for the safety of its students.
  • Willful misconduct is when the school's actions that led to harm were the result of a deliberate, intentional act.

What factors make a liability waiver for school trips or excursions effective?

First and foremost, the waiver must be written in clear, plain language that's easy for the parent to understand. It shouldn't contain any hidden clauses or be hidden inside another document.

It should state the purpose of the school trip and a clear description of the activities to be undertaken, together with a description of any risks associated with those activities. Waivers that are too broad or don't detail specific risks are less likely to be accepted by a judge.

If a waiver is tailored to the local laws it would be more effective. In general this is done by using a local lawyer to draft it, an experienced lawyer will be familiar with both the specific laws, and with previous judgements from the jurisdiction.

For more information see our guide on what makes an effective liability waiver.

What clauses need to be included?

It's a good idea to start the waiver by stating the purpose of the trip and what the student may gain from the experience. The waiver must state the itinerary, ie where the trip or excursion is to, and when it starts and ends.

Indemnity clause This is the key part of the waiver stating that the parent or guardian indemnifies the school for all damages that occur. Indemnity means that the parent/guardian is agreeing to assume all responsibility for any damages that occur.

Drugs and alcohol The waiver should include a clause stating that the consumption of drugs or alcohol before or during the trip by the student or any of the staff is completely forbidden.

Medical conditions It is normal for a waiver to request a declaration of any medical conditions that may create a risk to the child or to any other member of the outing, such as diabilities, dietary restrictions, medication, allergies, etc.

Consent To Emergency Medical Treatment This authorizes that the teachers or staff can send the student for any necessary medical treatment in case of emergency, and that the parent will reimburse for any costs incurred by the treatment (especially important in the US due to the very high medical costs).

Anything else I need to be aware of?

Problems can arise if the waiver is too broad or too narrow. For example, if the waiver is too broad, it could cover any possible injury, even if the injury occurred before the trip. If the waiver is too narrow, it could leave the school with no liability for any injuries that could occur.

It may sound obvious, but it is key to make sure the parent or guardian of each student has actually signed the waiver. That can be difficult with the amount of paperwork involved, especially if there are a lot of students on the trip - an online tool such as speedyWavier can help make this easier.

Any gross negligence will likely invalidate the waiver, ie an extreme departure from what's expected of a reasonable person. If a trip guide left behind a pupil who was injured, it would probably be considered gross negligence.

It is not advised to use a waiver template or have a teacher draft the waiver themselves - a lawyer will be much more familiar with the particular language to be used and the specific laws and court precedent in the local jurisdiction.

Collecting waivers

Pupils can be sent home with paper waivers for their parents to sign, however in this case it can be hard to keep track of all the paper waiver forms.

Alternatively an online waiver solution such as speedyWaiver is a much easier way to keep track of each waiver submission. speedyWaiver allows each trip or excursion to be set up as a separate group, and the form fill link to be sent to each of the parents, then it's easily possible to see which parents have returned their filled waiver forms.

In addition it means that each completed waiver is stored as a PDF within a digital vault where there is no chance it will be lost and from where it can be called up at any time via a simple search.

Example waivers and downloads

Here are example school trip/excursion waivers:

USA:

Canada:

iPhone/iPad AppAndroid App

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