One of the most common reasons given when schools or government agencies don’t move forward with a shared use relationship is the fear that they will be liable (legally responsible) in the event that someone is injured or property is damaged. Sometimes this fear of liability is a very real hurdle and complicates potential shared use opportunities. Other times it is merely a perception of fear that can be easily overcome with the right tools. Regardless, liability is a complex legal issue and should be addressed in any shared use agreement.
All 50 states have their own laws governing liability, and all offer some legal protections (sometimes called “immunity”) for public entities like schools in the event of an injury or property damage that occurs on public property. Some states have strong protections for public entities while other states have more limited protections.
One way to address liability concerns is to increase government immunity through changes to state law. Because of the complexity of tort liability laws, however, if the legislation seeking to change or clarify immunity isn’t well written or properly integrated into the state’s existing laws, the legislative changes can actually have negative consequences. These legislative “fixes” can muddle the legal rights and responsibilities of everyone involved, and may indeed leave community members with little, if any, recourse should they be injured as a result of an entity’s carelessness.
ChangeLab Solutions believes that there are often better ways to address liability fears than amending state law. By using prudent risk management strategies, such as regularly inspecting and maintaining property, carrying the proper insurance, and distributing legal risk through shared use agreements, parties can often overcome any liability concerns that potentially stand in the way of achieving a successful shared use partnership.
We have created a variety of tools to help communities to assess, understand, and manage risk.
Some school districts are reluctant to open school property to the community after hours, concerned about the legal risks and the costs associated with injury or property damage. This fact sheet explains how state laws, insurance, and joint use agreements can help protect school districts from liability.
Liability Risks for Use of Public School Property during Non-School Hours
To assist advocates and local government attorneys in assessing liability risks, we commissioned a 50-state survey of the laws governing liability for recreational use of school facilities during non-school hours.
A fact sheet about the Federal Volunteer Protection Act
People who volunteer for a nonprofit or school may be concerned about a lawsuit if an injury occurs. Fortunately, the federal Volunteer Protection Act provides volunteers with significant protections from liability associated with volunteer activity. This fact sheet provides an overview of those legal protections from liability.
Insurance coverage is one of the basic ways that nonprofits can protect themselves from the risk of liability. Nonprofits interested in entering into a shared use partnership will find this checklist helpful for assessing general insurance needs and understanding the steps and precautions for obtaining coverage.