When your child is in the care of a school, there are usually several precautions in place to ensure the safety of students. Sometimes accidents still happen, however, including playground injuries, sports injuries, slip and falls, school bus accidents, food reactions and more.
If your child has already been injured, you may be wondering who is responsible for paying the treatment costs or if your child should be compensated further. Further, if a signed waiver is required to attend a special event off-site, does this shield the school from liability entirely?
LIABILITY OF SCHOOLS FOR STUDENT INJURIES
In the 1980s and 1990s, many provinces, including Alberta, addressed the liability of school boards, making the law clear that school boards can be held liable for the negligent supervision of students in their care. In Myers v Peel County Board of Education,  2 SCR 21, 1981 CanLII 27 (SCC), the Supreme Court required teachers to hold themselves to the standard of the reasonably prudent parent. In similar vein, the school board was held liable in Bain v Calgary Board of Education, 1993 CanLII 7301 (AB QB) for the majority of damages for failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent a student’s injury.
In this second case, while on a school trip, an Alberta teacher permitted five grade 11 boys, including the plaintiff, to climb a mountain face in B.C. unsupervised. This was far from the original intended purpose of the trip, which was to learn about forestry and quite a departure from the high standard the court set for the defendant. The plaintiff, Mr. Bain, was 19 years old and he lived with cognitive impairments before the injury. He fell from the cliff and suffered a brain injury.
Here, the court considered that it was in the nature of high school boys to attempt high-risk activities and so school boards should show particular care for the safety of teens, even if they might feel themselves capable of making their own decisions. While the court was not explicit about taking developmental disabilities into account, this was implicit the judge’s reasoning about the plaintiff’s capacity as an eleventh grade student, rather than as a nineteen year old.
This case provides a good example of what the courts would consider relevant today, including: the presence of and adherence to safety manuals, whether high-risk behavior was foreseeable, the inherent riskiness of the activity, the experience of the student, and any assumption of risk by the student. The care that the school must take for the safety of students is dependent on the needs and capacities of the students.
OWNER’S OR OCCUPIER’S LIABILITY
“Owner’s or occupier’s liability” is often heard when a student is compensated for injuries incurred while in a school’s care. What this means is that the owner or occupier of the premises: had a duty of care owed for the safety of the individual, breached the standard of care, and caused an injury that was reasonably foreseeable.
In Mann v Calgary, (City), 1995 CanLII 9027 (AB QB), for example, an eleven-year-old boy, slipped and fell at Olympic Plaza while on a school trip, breaking his arm. While he discontinued his action against school board, he was still awarded $12,000 for the city’s operation of a dangerous premise.
WAIVERS AND THEIR EFFECTIVENESS
You may be wondering about the effect of a waiver needed for your child to participate in an offsite school event. The case of Van Hooydonk v Jonker, 2009 ABQB 8 (CanLII), does not involve a child on a school trip, but contains an excellent example of the kinds of risks field trips could involve and a discussion of waivers.
Here, the plaintiff, Ms. Van Hooydonk rented a horse along with her friends and fell off her horse almost immediately, having to be removed by an ambulance. Prior to this, she had signed a liability waiver. In this case, the ride operator had taken enough precautions for safety; particularly since Ms. Van Hooydonk had ridden horses before and the horse chosen was “gentle” and suitable for anyone riding the trail. The court also considered the impact of the waiver, and in this case, considered that it would not be unfair to apply the waiver, even if the operator had been negligent.
Sometimes a waiver can be used to shield a defendant from liability if the waiver is a valid contract (particularly, the plaintiff knew what they were signing), the scope of the waiver covers the accident, and if it would not be unconscionable to enforce the waiver (e.g., due to outrageous or intentional conduct by the defendant).
Unlike liability waivers, however, the law on school “permission slips” is unclear, having not been addressed in Alberta or addressed elsewhere for quite some time. However, it is unlikely that a waiver would shield a school from allegations of negligence.
Cases involving waivers are likely to be quite technical, as they turn on the specifics of the waiver and the interaction of contract and tort law. As such, you should be wary of drawing conclusions about a situation without speaking to a lawyer.
BRAITHWAITE BOYLE, PERSONAL INJURY ACCIDENT LAWYERS IN CALGARY, EDMONTON & RED DEER, ALBERTA
If your child has been injured at school or at a school event, contact Braithwaite Boyle Accident Law. In Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer, a personal injury lawyer at our firm can assess the matter and explain what compensation may be available. Contact our lawyers at 1-800-661-4902.