Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Liability for Off-Campus Trips
Court rules school not liable for 15-passenger van fatality.

Key Point Many churches own 15-passenger vans that are used to carry passengers on church-approved trips. The safety of these vehicles has been questioned in a number of safety advisories issued by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Church leaders should be familiar with the risk that these vehicles pose, and take steps to manage that risk.

A federal court in Washington ruled that a school could not be liable for the death of a 15-year-old student while traveling in a 15-passenger van on a field trip that was not under the supervision or control of the school. A group of nine high school students were traveling to another city as part of the Upward Bound Program. The van hit black ice, the driver of the van lost control and the van rolled. During the rollover, two students sustained fatal injuries. The families of one of the deceased victims (a 15-year old girl) sued the school, claiming that it negligently supervised the victims by allowing them to travel in a 15-passenger van, and that it negligently failed to warn the victim or her parents of the dangers of riding in a 15-passenger van. The school argued that it was not legally obligated to supervise students not in its custody or control.

The Upward Bound Program is a federally funded program, organized and administered by Columbia Basin College ("CBC"), which targets high school students who generally would be the first students in their family to attend college or students from economically disadvantaged families. CBC employees visit various high schools and recruit students into the program. At the time of her death, the victim was on a field trip sponsored by CBC through its Upward Bound Program. The District approved the victim's absence from school so that she could attend the field trip. The Upward Bound Program employees transported the victim, and others, in a 15-passenger van that day.

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