Liability Policies for Community-Engaged Practices

Guideline Statement:

In general, liability policies are the same for community-engaged learning experiences as they are for on-campus learning experiences.  The University of Minnesota encourages community-engaged learning experiences and in the event of an incident, is here to support students, faculty, staff, and University volunteers.

Reason for Guideline:

A number of University of Minnesota faculty and staff who engage students in various community-based learning experiences have had questions regarding libaility policies for community engagement.  Specfically, faculty and staff have asked questions related to who bears responsbility in the case of various community-engagement activities.

FAQs:

Question:  Who bears responsibility when something happens to a student at a community agency when participating in a required (or optional) course-based service-learning experience? 

In general, liability rests with the person who has caused the harm, whether that “person” is the University, a faculty member, a department, the city, or a community organization.  However, broadly speaking, the University of Minnesota has a duty to students and assumes some level of liability and responsibility when harm is caused.  The University of Minnesota assumes the same level of liability for a student whether that student is in a traditional classroom setting or at a community-based learning site.

Question:  If a student is injured while in transit to or from a community-based learning site, who bears responsibility?

By and large, the University of Minnesota is not liable for harm caused to an individual during transit.  If a student is using public transportation, the transportation organization (e.g., Metro Transit) would assume liability.  If a personal vehicle is being used to transport students and there is an accident, the car’s insurance policy would assume responsibility.  (The mileage reimbursement rate includes money to offset insurance coverage costs.)  If the University of Minnesota has arranged for transportation with University vehicles, then the University of Minnesota assumes a larger degree of liability.

Question:  What is the liability of the University and individual students who participate in co-curricular community-based experiences that are not connected to academic programs (e.g., students doing volunteer work as part of a University-sponsored student club)

If an event is sponsored by the University of Minnesota, then the University assumes some level of responsibility for the participating students.  All Campus Life Programs are considered part of the University and would be covered to some extent by the University’s liability policy.  However, registered Student Organizations are independent from the University and, therefore, the Student Organization assumes liability. 

Question:  Should I have my students fill out a liability release?

When an activity is mandatory for course credit, there is no need for a liability release, except if the activity is for study abroad.  Ultimately, a liability release does not necessarily absolve an individual, including the University of Minnesota, from all liability.  However, liability releases can be helpful to think through potential issues prior to engaging in the activity.  

Question:  How does liability differ for a student enrolled in a course-based community engagement experience and a professional practicum experience?

In general, the University of Minnesota is not liable for a student doing a professional practicum experience (e.g., medical residents, student teachers, nurses, dentists, social workers).  The liability in these circumstances rests with the individual who has caused harm.  For a student enrolled in a course-based community engagement experience, this issue is more gray.  In most cases, these students would be covered, to some extent, by the University’s liability policy.

Question:  Does the University of Minnesota provide any support to students, staff, or faculty if there is a liability issue?

Yes.  The University of Minnesota has an indemnification policy that provides free legal advice to any student, staff, faculty, or University volunteer as long as that individual was/is acting in good faith.  The Office of the General Counsel can be contacted at:  ogc@mail.ogc.umn.edu or 612-624-4100.  To read the policy, visit:  http://regents.umn.edu/sites/default/files/policies/LegalDefense.pdf

Question:  In regard to liability, what are the most important things faculty members should know when doing community-based research or engaging students in community-based experiences?

The most important thing to know is that the University encourages community-engaged learning opportunities.  Like all situations, organizers of learning experiences should use common sense and perform due diligence to ensure a safe, productive learning environment.  Generally, in the event that an incident occurs when engaged in a University activity, whether on campus or off campus, the University will support students, staff, faculty, and University volunteers.  For additional questions, the Office of the General Counsel can be contacted at:  ogc@mail.ogc.umn.edu or 612-624-4100.

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