The extent to which universities are liable for student safety is an issue that has undergone drastic change in recent decades. Since universities could potentially be liable for harm to students due to negligence, it is crucial to acknowledge risks and to take steps to prevent litigation.
Recent Court Decisions
The area in tort liability that is of most concern for institutions of higher education is negligence. Common cases in which institutions of higher education have been found responsible for harm to students due to negligence include the following types of circumstances:
- When a potentially dangerous physical condition exists (such as faulty locks on dorms) and repairs are not made
- When universities know about and address in policy statements a prevailing dangerous student practice (such as hazing in pledge initiations) but do not make reasonable effort to stop or limit such practices
- Officials are aware of a specific dangerous activity where injury results, but do not take reasonable steps to limit the possibility of foreseeable danger
Risk Management to Prevent Liability
Being proactive about student safety is one of the best ways an institution of higher education can protect itself against lawsuits, especially where there is a recognized risk. If you have taken steps to protect students from harm, it is important that you are continually proactive about protecting them from this harm to prevent claims of negligence. For example, fences around a campus could represent a voluntary assumption of duty to protect students from intruders. Policies prohibiting certain student behaviours could represent your assumption of duty to proactively police these behaviours—and if you don’t, you could be held liable for injuries that result. Understanding the risks that exist for your students and taking action to protect them will not only promote a safe and happy campus; it will protect you from costly litigation.
Transferring Risk with Insurance
In addition to taking proactive steps, a general liability insurance policy provides coverage for claims of bodily injury and property damage arising from negligent actions. It is important to understand exclusions to coverage, which might include:
- Expected or intended injury
- The business of selling, serving or furnishing alcohol
Contact Us Today
At the Axis Insurance Group, we can help you identify possible liability exposures and formulate effective prevention plans. Contact us today.
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