Washington Case Law Update: After Student Boarded District Bus, School Did Not Have Custody, Did Not Owe Duty

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Washington Case Law Update: After Student Boarded District Bus, School Did Not Have Custody, Did Not Owe Duty

From the desk of Thomas McCurdy: Schools and school districts have a duty to protect students in their custody from foreseeable risks of harm. Recently, the Washington Supreme Court held that if that duty is breached, the school or school district may be liable for harm the student incurs, even if the harm occurs after the student leaves the school or school district’s custody. As the Court explained, it is the location of the negligence, not the injury, that is the critical factor of the liability analysis. Read on to see how Washington courts are applying this ruling.

Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of the off-campus sexual assault of a special education student by a stranger, the Washington Court of Appeals held that summary judgment in favor of the school was appropriate where there was no issue of fact as to whether the student was in the school’s custody at the time of the alleged negligence. Because the student had boarded a district bus, the student was in the district’s custody, and the school therefore did not owe the student a duty. The case provides important insight into the application of this recently established rule.

Bell v. Northwest School of Innovative Learning, No. 48063-8-II, Washington Court of Appeals, Div. II (March 7, 2017)

Bethel School District (the “District”) was unable to meet the special education needs of one of its students, 15-year-old CB, so it contracted with Northwest School of Innovative Learning (“NW School”). At the end of a school day in March 2012, CB boarded a District school bus that was waiting at the sidewalk adjoining a city street in front of NW School. CB was agitated at the time, and following a verbal altercation with another student and with the bus driver, a NW School Behavior Intervention Specialist came to the bus doorway and spoke with CB. He attempted to deescalate the...

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