Risk and Liability in the Era of Ride Sharing

CATEGORY: Authored Articles
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
PUBLICATION: National Business Officers Association (NBOA)’s Net Assets Magazine
DATE: Jul 20, 2018

Remember when teenagers counted down the days until they got their drivers’ licenses? Today, more teenagers rely on ride-share companies to get them to and from activities, commitments, and social events. Parents, too, find that ride-share companies can make their lives easier by eliminating the need to coordinate carpool or hire nannies.  With more and more parents sending their kids to and from school in ride-share vehicles, schools are left wondering what liability they might have if a child is injured or harmed while using such services.

Parent-Directed Transportation

Schools have little to no control over how parents get their children to school in the morning, but afternoon carpool is a different story.  Some schools have open campuses with no monitoring of pick up; other have strictly planned carpool lines where students are only allowed to go home with an adult designated by the parents. If your school wants to allow ride-share companies, we advise developing a written policy or disclaimer that includes the following:

  • An explanation that the school does not endorse the use of any ride-share company for pickup and does not screen drivers or their vehicles.
  • A statement that if a parent decides to utilize a ride-share for carpool purposes, then the school has no liability for any risks or consequences of that decision.
  • If parents must fill out a carpool form indicating who can pick up their child, then “ride-share” should be one of the options.

But are all ride-share companies the same? Many major companies maintain terms of service that explicitly prohibit minors from riding without an adult, even if the account holder arranges the ride.  Other companies cater specifically to transporting minors to and from school, athletics, or other extracurricular activities.  These companies engage in higher levels of security and screening for drivers.  Schools should make clear that it is the parents’ responsibility to research various companies and their practices and procedures in order to decide what is best for their family. Some schools may only feel comfortable permitting ride-share services that cater to children on campus.

School-Provided Transportation

Many laws govern schools’ use of buses and vans for student transport.  These laws exist in part to regulate the safe transportation of children and schools using bus and van companies enter into written contracts to ensure compliance with these laws.  However, schools have little to no guidance on how courts might assess negligence standards and other liability issues for this new ride-share companies, which some schools have started to explore for activities like field trips and athletics. Although schools should not use ride-share companies that prohibit unaccompanied minors, your school may want to consider whether it makes sense to enter into an agreement with a ride-share company geared toward kids.

When starting a relationship with a ride-share company, consider several key factors and document the following in a contract:

  • Insurance coverage: Consult with your school’s insurance broker to identify the nature and extent of coverage required for the specific scope of services.  The ride-share company’s insurance should be primary and cover the school, as an additional insured, in case of any accident or injury.  Be careful!  Some ride-share companies promise that they “meet all legal requirements” regarding insurance.  However, this promise only means that the company meets basic minimums. Require the ride-share company to maintain extensive coverage, including for sexual misconduct and abuse.  Demand the most protective coverage so that in case of an accident or other problem, the ride share company’s coverage will protect the school.
  • Indemnification:  The ride-share company should defend, indemnify and hold the school harmless from any and all liability associated with the transportation services.
  • Security:  How and where will company drop off the children?  What happens if the car breaks down or gets into an accident?  The contract should address these protocols.
  • Driver Screening:  State laws may require fingerprinting and Tuberculosis risk assessments.
  • Reliability: Include timing and scheduling details in the agreement.  Contracts may include consequential or liquidated damages for no shows or late arrivals.

Given common concerns regarding traffic and congestion around schools, particularly in crowded neighborhoods, parents may be excited to hear about carpool options using ride-share companies.  In general, ride-share companies have made life easier for many busy parents. But each school must determine what approach it will take regarding ride-sharing, assess the risks and proactively manage these risk.

Julie Strom and Heather DeBlanc are California-based education lawyers with Liebert Cassidy Whitmore (lcwlegal.com). They provide advice to private schools and colleges on every aspect of student, parent, employee and board-level issues; represent schools and colleges in state and federal court litigation; and regularly conduct training. Contact them at jstrom@lcwlegal.com and hdeblanc@lcwlegal.com.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of the National Business Officers Association (NBOA)’s Net Assets Magazine.