School Liability for Students Car Accidents

In Gylten v. Swalboski, 246 F.3d 1139 (8th Cir. 2001), the student, a licensed driver, had been asked to drive himself and another member of the football team to practice at another school because the usual school bus transportation was not available. Id. at 1141. The student driver had an accident en route, and the injured motorist sued the school district. In affirming the district court's finding that no duty existed, the appeals court cited with approval the Thompson v. Ange, Wickey v. Sparks, and Hoff v. Vacaville cases. Id. at 1143-44. As in those cases, the court found no special relationship between the district and the non-student plaintiff. There was no evidence the district knew or should have known that the student was anything but an average licensed driver with parental permission to drive to school. There was no evidence that he had a history of careless driving, and the district did not provide the vehicle. Id. at 1144. In Hoff v. Vacaville Unified School District, 19 Cal. 4th 925, 968 P.2d 522, 525, 80 Cal. Rptr. 2d 811 (Cal. 1998), a pedestrian was struck by a student motorist when the student, who was exiting a high school parking lot, jumped the curb with his car. the pedestrian sued the school district and advanced the same argument as appellants, that the special relationship between the school district and the student imposed upon the district a duty to exercise reasonable care to control the student so as to protect all persons who were foreseeably endangered by his conduct. Id. at 527. Wickey v. Sparks, 642 N.E.2d 262 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) involved an automobile accident caused by a high school student. Id. at 264. After completing morning vocational classes, students were allowed to drive to the high school for afternoon classes if they had parental permission and a valid driver's license. Id. the student handbook required safe driving and compliance with all traffic laws. Students were required to return to school by a certain time and were instructed to use a route that was deemed "safer" by school officials. Id. at 264-65. In Thompson v. Ange, 83 A.D.2d 193, 443 N.Y.S.2d 918, 920 (N.Y. App. Div. 1981), the court refused to impose liability upon school authorities for the negligence of a licensed student driver while driving his own car on a public road. the student was traveling from his high school to a vocational training center, during school hours and in violation of school rules. Id. In finding no duty, the court noted that the violation of school rules did not increase the risk of an accident; indeed, the risk existed regardless of any school rule: "With or without rules, neither the school board nor the district has any duty to members of the driving public to keep their student . . . off the public highways with his automobile during school hours." Id. at 921.