SCHOOL DISTRICTS ‑- RIGHT TO INSURE AGAINST LIABILITY FOR ACCIDENTS ‑- SCHOOL PATROL.
(1) Under some factual situations a school district may be liable in case of injury to a school patrolman while on patrol duty.
(2) School districts have specific authority to insure members of a school patrols.
(3) School districts have implied authority to insure themselves against liability for other injuries.
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March 26, 1956
Mr. Marvin Powell
Washington State Safety Council
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 55-57 No. 232
You have asked the opinion of this office on the following questions:
1. Is a school district financially liable in case of an injury to a school patrolman while on patrol duty?
2. May a school district employ district funds to insure the personnel on its school patrol?
3. Can school districts, under existing law, insure the district against liability arising out of accidents occurring during such school activities as auto mechanics, industrial arts and driver education classes?
Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
1. Under some factual situations a school district may be liable.
2. School districts have specific authority to insure members of school patrols.
3. School districts have implied authority to protect themselves by liability insurance.
RCW 4.08.120 provides in part:
"An action may be maintained against a * * * school district * * * for an injury to the rights of the plaintiff arising from some act or omission of such public corporation."
An exception is made where such injury results from the use of athletic apparatus or appliances or manual training equipment. RCW 28.58.030 provides as follows:
"No action shall be brought or maintained against any school district or its officers for any noncontractual act or omission of the district, its agents, officers, or employees, relating to any park, playground, or field house athletic apparatus or appliance, or manual training equipment, whether situated in or about any schoolhouse or elsewhere, owned, operated, or maintained by the school district."
It is apparent that the activities of the school patrol are not within the terms of the exemption statute above quoted. It is possible that a school district could incur liability by a failure properly to train or supervise the school patrol personnel.
In 1953 the legislature added the following provision to RCW 46.48.160:
"School districts may expend funds from the general fund of the district to pay premiums for life and accident policies covering the members of the school patrol in their district while engaged in the performance of their school patrol duties."
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
In our judgment school districts should make certain that they are adequately insured against liability which may arise from accidents occurring in connection with driver training courses.
Whether or not the exemption from liability for injuries sustained in connection with manual training equipment is broad enough to include accidents occurring in connection with auto mechanics or industrial arts classes is doubtful.
The recent cases of Briscoe v. School District No. 123, 32 Wn. (2d) 353 andMcLeod v. Grant County School District, 42 Wn. (2d) 316 demonstrate a tendency on the part of our supreme court strictly to construe RCW 28.58.030, the exemption statute. These cases each involved injuries sustained on the playground or gymnasium which could have been avoided if the district had provided adequate supervision.
We believe the courts might be similarly inclined to interpret strictly the meaning of manual training equipment. We are enclosing a copy of a well-reasoned opinion of this office addressed to the prosecuting attorney of Pacific County on October 1, 1931, on this general subject. In concluding that school districts have the implied power to insure themselves against liability for injuries to pupils in physical training and athletic events the opinion stated:
"* * * Indeed, it would appear that this not only falls within the doctrine of implied power but that the right of a district to thus protect itself against possible heavy damage claims also may be said to be indispensable to the existence of the corporation."
An additional reason for school districts to consider an adequate liability insurance program is to protect school administrators and instructors from the likelihood of being named as parties defendant in such actions for damages.
We hope the foregoing comments will prove helpful.
Very truly yours,
ANDY G. ENGEBRETSEN
Assistant Attorney General