Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian Blog

Torts—Duty of University to Students Studying Abroad

Posted by Matt Schmidt | Mar 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

Boisson V Arizona Board of Regents, __Ariz. Adv. Rep. __ No. 1 CA-CV 13-05889 (Div. I, MMarch 10, 2015)  ( J. Thumma)


Plaintiffs' decedent died of altitude sickness at the Mt. Everest  Base Camp while studying abroad in China in a Nanjing American University [NAU] which was affiliated with the University of Arizona [UA] and it study abroad program..  He was part of a student group making an educational extracurricular side trip to Tibet when he died.  Plaintiffs' sued UA through the Board of Regents for negligence and the trial court granted UA summary judgment on the question of duty. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.

The question of duty is a threshold question in negligence cases. A defendant does not have a duty to exercise reasonable care vis a vis a plaintiff unless required by statute, common law, public policy or by virtue of the relationship between the parties.  Arizona courts have often found schools owe a duty of reasonable care to students on campus, involved in school programs and when in the custody and care of the school.  Injuries and deaths off campus turn on the specific facts but more often than not the courts find no duty. 

The court identified the following factors to consider in determining whether a college or university owes a student a duty concerning off campus activities:

(1)    the purpose of the activity,

(2) whether the activity was part of the course curriculum,

(3) whether the school had supervisory authority and responsibility during the activity,

(4) whether the risk students were exposed to during the activity was independent of school involvement,

(5) the activity was voluntary or was a required school activity

 (6) whether a school employee was present at or participated in the activity or was expected to do so and

(7) whether the activity involved a dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus

Here while professors agreed to allow students on this side trip to Tibet to later make up missed classes, the trip was solely planned, organized and paid for by the students who hired a third party tour guide and the risk of altitude sickness existed independent of anything the University did or could do. Applying the seven factors, UA had no duty to plaintiffs' decedent and summary judgment was properly granted.

About the Author

Matt Schmidt

Matt graduated from the James E Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in passing the Arizona bar exam in 2010. Matt's primary interest in law focuses on general personal injury and insurance bad faith.


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