Students and Ridesharing: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, continue to grow in popularity and use. The services are cost-effective, convenient, and require no exchange of cash. A ride can be ordered remotely for someone else. It is no surprise, then, that parents are turning to such services as a means to transport their children to and from school and various extra-curricular activities. Parents order a ride using a mobile app and the driver picks up and transports the child to the preset destination. Except for specialty services aimed at transporting minors (e.g., HopSkipDrive), most ridesharing services, including Uber and Lyft, have policies prohibiting drivers from transporting minors without an adult present. Nevertheless, in a ratings-driven work environment, ridesharing drivers might disregard such policies to avoid a negative rating.

Aside from the convenience for parents, do these services create liability for school districts when an Uber or Lyft driver comes through the drop-off or pick-up line? The answer is probably not.

Education Code section 44808 gives districts legal immunity from liability for the safety of students after school hours and off school property, unless the district has undertaken to provide transportation for students to and from a school-sponsored activity off the premises, has undertaken a school-sponsored activity off school premises, has otherwise specifically assumed such responsibility or liability, or has failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.

In Bassett v. Lakeside Inn, Inc. (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 863, the court explained that a district “would not be liable for injuries off campus and after school unless they were the result of the District’s negligence occurring on school grounds or were the result of some specific undertaking by the District, which was then performed in a negligent manner.” Importantly, the court noted the “failing to exercise reasonable care” language in section 44808 “does not create a common law form of general negligence; it refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care during one of the mentioned undertakings.” (Id. at pp. 870-871, emphasis added.)

In Guerrero v. South Bay Union School District (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 264, the court held that a school district was not liable for a student’s injury that occurred when the student crossed the street after school. The court held the school district did not have a duty to supervise students off campus once they are released from school:

We are convinced, however, that the statutory scheme in this case neither requires nor permits the extension of a duty of care to the schools of California to supervise children properly dismissed from school until their parents arrive. In order to provide the level of supervision in this case, the district would have to have sufficient staff to control each of the students it dismissed to ensure that the student is either safely home or safely picked up by parents or guardians. Perhaps such added supervision would be in the public interest; however, policy decisions of that nature should be made by the Legislature or by the administration of the school districts, not on a case by case basis. Section 44808 has struck a balance in which the Legislature has immunized the schools from tort liability for off campus conduct unless the district has undertaken such responsibility or the negligence occurs in the discharge of the school’s ordinary, on campus, during school hours activities. (Id. at p. 274; emphasis added.)

For the most part, then, school districts are immune from liability for student safety off-campus, after school, unless the district has specifically assumed such responsibility. If a student leaves campus after school and enters a private ridesharing service vehicle arranged by their parent or guardian, district liability for a resulting injury is unlikely.

Nonetheless, districts must exercise reasonable care. Depending on the circumstances, for example, knowingly allowing a very young child to get into a car driven by a stranger might lead to liability if the stranger turned out to be a predator.

As a practical matter, districts may consider implementing a policy prohibiting ridesharing services from picking up students from campus or entering a school’s pick-up lane. Parents should be notified of the policy well in advance, and it should include protocols — for example, what a student would be directed to do if a rideshare driver is turned away. Parents should also be notified that a school’s pick-up lane is for use only by parents/guardians and authorized individuals (identified on the student’s emergency card) who pick up students from school. If pick-up lanes are monitored by school personnel, those employees must be aware of the policy and prepared to enforce it.

Districts that do not want to prohibit such services can communicate a clear disclaimer that parents or guardians who order ridesharing services to transport their children to or from school do so at their own risk.

Ridesharing services have changed the face of transportation, and they appear to be here to stay. As happens with most new cultural and technological developments, it may take years for courts and the Legislature to fully address these changes. In the meantime, questions about ridesharing services at school should be discussed with legal counsel.

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