An OECTA association representative calls the Counselling and Member Services department because two teachers in the school were asked by the principal to drive students on a field trip in their cars. When the teachers were not comfortable with this request, the principal suggested they rent a car to transport the students. The teachers are wondering if there are any potential liabilities for transporting students, even in a car rental situation.
The responsibility for transporting students should remain with the school board and parents. Public transportation or hired buses are the best ways to transport students. OECTA recommends that teachers do not use their own personal vehicles for any reason to transport students. Teachers risk being personally liable, even when renting a car to transport students, such as the risk that a student or parent may sue or complain. OECTA advises that teachers are under no obligation to personally transport students, for any reason. Even in an emergency, the teacher is free to refuse to provide transportation, and should transport students only if fully aware of the risks involved.
In the past, teachers often used their own vehicles to transport students to school functions and field trips. However, in today's litigious society, teachers must rethink this practice. In addition, although a school administrator may assure teachers that the board's insurance will protect them in the event of an accident, this is not always the case. Board insurance policies usually contain ceilings on payouts; additional amounts may then be recovered from the teacher's insurer.
In the event of an accident, teachers could face cancellation of their auto insurance policies or a steep increase in premiums, especially if they have not previously notified their insurer that their vehicle could be used to transport students. Even if the teacher is not at fault, anyone involved in the accident could launch a civil suit seeking damages far beyond the liability coverage in the personal auto insurance. This also applies to car rental situations. If the rental car is not fully insured through the car rental outlet, the teacher’s personal insurance could be held liable. In cases where this has occurred, the school board insurance policy has claimed that they are not liable for any coverage, leaving the teacher’s personal insurance carrier to battle with the car rental insurer over who is liable.
Teachers who choose to transport students should ensure that:
- the board insurance policy will cover transporting students by teachers
- the teacher has sufficient insurance coverage for personal injury to student passengers and property damage.
If teachers are to be asked to transport students to school functions, including before-and-after-school events such as concerts and football games, there should be a process in place to obtain parental consent. There should also be a protocol providing official board approval prior to the event for the function and the transportation of students.
As well as personal financial liability for costs, teachers risk professional liability if a student makes an accusation of professional impropriety during the trip. Without a witness, the student’s statement must be weighed against the teacher’s statement. This could lead to investigation by the school board, Children’s Aid Society, police and the Ontario College of Teachers. This is not a risk that teachers should take.