Court Rules that A Georgia College is Not Responsible For the Drowning Death of A Student During University Sponsored Trip

We humans are often babes in the woods when we blithely send our offspring off to participate in school-sponsored trips. We imagine that the school will naturally take care of our loved ones as well and as diligently as we would. The question here is this one; if he/she is on a school sanctioned trip, organized and supervised by the school, can a student’s injury or death be caused by the school’s negligent preparation for the student’s activities? Apparently not always.

In This Case followed by the case information.

In the case of Downes v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga. App. 250 (2017), a 20-year-old male student attended a trip to study abroad sponsored by a certain university. The young man paid for the credits he was to receive as a result of the trip, paid for transportation and meals, and also paid for the tour guide in his application fee for the program. But, when he was taken with other students to a Costa Rican beach to swim, he was caught in a rip-current and drowned. His parents, as representatives for his estate, sued the University for negligence in the young victim’s wrongful death.

The trial court granted the University’s request for summary judgment, essentially tossing the case out of court based on the fact that the young man, an adult in legal terms, had an obligation to exercise care for himself and for his own safety but voluntarily assumed the risk of swimming in the Pacific Ocean. He was at fault for his own death, according to the trial court.

The young man’s family appealed the trial court’s judgment insisting that the University sponsored and supervised the trip and should have protected the students from danger in spite of his willingness to accept the risks.

Subtitle: Signed release of Liability

Trips such as this one often include a waiver or exculpatory clause in the paperwork that releases the school or other organization from liability. This trip did. The young man willingly signed the waiver effectively excusing the school from any future negligence. It essentially served as his testimony accepting the risks and absolving the university from any wrongdoing.

The appellate court upheld the trial court’s summary judgment.

In review, they pointed out that the law has held that: “Even if a defendant is negligent, a determination that a plaintiff assumed the risk or failed to exercise ordinary care for [his] own safety bars recovery for the resulting injury suffered by the plaintiff, unless the injury was willfully and wantonly inflicted.”

Because the University did not willfully or wantonly cause the young man’s death, his family and his estate could not recover for the loss.

Subtitle: Ask the Experts.

Cases where there are risks involved and waivers signed can swing any number of ways in a court of law. In Georgia, however, the victim’s voluntary assumption of risk is a difficult hurdle. That’s why you are wise to seek the counsel of a personal injury specialist before you file your suit.

At The Millar Law Firm, we carefully review every case before we take it on. Long before you retain us, we understand the pitfalls that may be lurking in the shadows of your matter. A word, a document, a witness all can make the difference between winning and losing a case. We evaluate those things first and help you to understand what could happen before you step into the ring.

Call us today for your free case review. There is no obligation. Just good, free advice as to how you should proceed. Why not go into court prepared the best way you can be? Having a proven professional at your side when you enter the courtroom is the surest way to recover what you’ve lost.