Office of Risk Management

Risk Management Policy and Procedure Manual

Part 10 Student Risk Management Issues
Subject: Student Organizations and Risk Management

  1. Purpose:

    These guidelines have been developed to clarify the extent to which the State Self-Funded Liability Program (SSLP) applies to the activities and functions of Student Organizations within the University of Wisconsin System. In addition, procedures for the evaluation of the organization's activities with respect to liability protection as well as for the procurement of outside sources of liability insurance will be discussed. This evaluation will also assist campus administrators in the approval of student organization's use of university-owned vehicles, facilities and services provided. While these guidelines should provide clarification, the final decision for liability protection ultimately rests with the Attorney General and will depend upon the situation in which loss occurred.

    Note: All highlighted words have been defined in the appendix of this document.

  2. Background:

    Student organizations have been a topic of concern from a liability perspective for university administrators for many years. Involvement in a wide variety of activities ranging from sky diving to elderly care results in a severe liability exposure for Student Organizations and the University. Claims for negligent acts or omissions resulting in personal injury or property damage to others and which result from the activities of that organization, may be imposed on the individuals involved, the student organization, faculty and staff advisors, and the University, depending on the circumstances.

    University Administrators would like to be able to approach these loss exposures pro-actively by providing the student organizations with a way to evaluate the level of liability protection that the organization members have via the SSLP fund and their potential need for commercial liability insurance. Of extreme importance is the consistent and continual education of faculty, staff and students about their potential liability exposures, the limitations in liability coverage through the SSLP, and the evaluation of their need for outside coverage.

    It is not the role of the risk management office on campus to determine the legitimacy of student organization activities, but rather to evaluate and manage, in cooperation with faculty, staff and students, the liability exposures which Student Organization activities may create.

  3. Issues:

    Because liability protection extended to individual employees, officers, and agents, is not absolute it is impossible to determine whether liability protection will exist for individuals involved in a given specific student organization activity. In determining the potential for coverage, the first step is to determine whether the individual involved are agents of the university. Often it is quite difficult to determine whether an individual agent will be covered for liability without knowing the details of the specific situations from which the liability may arise. Liability protection will be judged based on the specific activities of the individuals. Therefore, student organizations should not assume continuous and automatic liability protection by virtue of their existence.

    Key factors in determining the liability protection in a given situation are the campus mission, the level of benefit and control that exists between the organization and the university, and the agency status of individuals involved.

    1. Campus Mission:

      Each institution operates under the UW System Mission, a Core Mission, and a Select Campus Mission. These mission statements set forth the broad purpose and scope of the UW System and its institutions, providing philosophical and management direction to each. They also imply the broad relationship between the pure academic pursuits of the campus and the extracurricular activities provided.

      For example, UW Stevens Point has a specialized degree in forestry and also provides a variety of forestry-related extracurricular student activities. Because the mission statement refers directly to Natural Resource Management programs, the faculty, staff, and students can see a direct link between various forestry extracurricular activities and the overall university mission. The strength of such links may be a critical factor in determining whether liability protection exists.

    2. Benefit and Control:

      In general, for liability protection to exist there must be direct relationship between the purpose of the organization and the activity. For an activity of a student organization to show benefit to the university, it must fall within the stated Mission of the University. For example, benefits to the university may be economic in nature or may enhance the community outreach goals of the institution as well as enhancing the academic and student development goals of the institutions. If the activity is for the exclusive benefit of an organization outside of the university, such as the YMCA, then the individuals probably will not fall within the scope of liability protection.

      In addition, some level of control by the university over the activities of the organization must be evident. If the university maintains some degree of control over the activities that take place, then it is more appropriate to argue that liability protection exists for certain individuals in the organization. Controls which the university might have over a Student Organization include but are not limited to:

      1. Officially recognized by the institution.
      2. Eligible for segregated University Fees (SUF).
      3. Statement of mission/charter.
      4. Designated faculty/staff advisor.
      5. Conformance with University, Municipal, and State laws.

      Each university runs a volunteer experience program in which students perform volunteer services for organizations, for example, the Kinship program at UW-Stout. Liability protection for such functions may work a number of ways as the responsibility for the function may rest with the entity our student organization is assisting, the university's SSLP, or a combination of the two. Again, the events of the situation will determine the university's responsibility.

    3. Agency Status:

      Liability protection is afforded through the SSLP for officers, employees, and agents of the State while acting within the scope of their employment or agency (see State Statute 895.46, appendix A). Although it may be a simple matter to determine who officers and employees of the State are, it is less clear who is considered an agent of the State. While the use of documentation may help the organization to clarify the status of its members, the ultimate determination of agency is based on a case by case analysis. Examples of helpful documentation include but not limited to: letters of invitation, planning documents, proposals, organizational charters and bylaws.

      Agency status does not guarantee liability protection. Membership in a student organization does not guarantee agency status. Liability protection will only be afforded to those agents who are operating within the scope of their duties as agents. This reinforces the need for a student organization to specify in writing what its activities generally are and what responsibilities exist for the members of the organization who feel that they might be agents of the university.

  4. Role of Faculty and Staff Advisors to Student Organizations:

    Faculty and staff advisors who have been appointed as such are provided liability protection for their actions when acting in the scope of their employment or agency. Ideally, the appointment should be included as part of an employee's written position description, or at a minimum, the appointment should be in writing. Faculty and staff advisors should be active when working and advising student organizations. They should take responsibility for questioning activities of a student organization and voice disagreement if they see a problem with a proposed event. These actions are within their scope of employment. They must feel comfortable when questioning a student activity as that event or activity may have an impact on the university's liability coverage.

  5. Strategies For Risk Management:

    1. Risk Control:

      The liability exposure the university faces for those activities which are linked through the mission of the university or the level of benefit and control can be minimized by the following:

      1. Transferring risk through third-party waivers, hold-harmless agreements, or through vendor contracting (especially applicable to rental vehicles).
      2. Transferring risk through personal liability, health, travel, and life insurance.
      3. Preventing/controlling risk through training and supervision.
      4. Retaining the risk through choice of only those activities that are low risk.
    2. Risk Financing:
      1. SSLP Coverage:

        When all the following conditions are met, liability protection by the SSLP is highly probable to those agents (members of student organization) who are operating within the scope of their agency.

        1. Meets the mission of the university;
        2. Follows established rules and regulations of its university;
        3. And, a faculty or staff advisor is actively involved with the student organization.
      2. Outside Coverage

        When a organizational activity does not meet these requirements, the organization is required to sign hold-harmless and indemnification clauses. If the Student Organization sees a need for extending liability protection to all members regardless of agency status, outside insurance protection must be considered in order to protect the organization and its members.

      Specific events that do not benefit the university mission, such as a pub tour, is an example of where the SSLP will not respond. The organization participating in such events will need to secure a special-event liability policy for student organization activities. This policy is normally priced on a per-event basis since each event is separately underwritten. Consulting with a local insurance agent to purchase coverage for the event may aid in receiving a competitive price for the coverage. If insurance coverage can not be purchased, the student organization may want to weigh the merits of hosting the event as the members may become personally liable for any wrong doing.

In order for the university to recognize an event the following list of insurance policy conditions must be met.

  1. Named Insured: The Student Organization or specific member.
  2. Additional Insured: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, its officers, employees and agents.
  3. Coverage Detail: Commercial General Liability coverage for bodily injury or property damage caused by the student organization members to third parties during the course of the event.
  4. Policy Minimums: $500,000 limit per occurrence. $500 Medical Payments optional.

When an organization seeks coverage under this format, a certificate of insurance must be submitted to the campus risk manager well in advance of the event which shows the above conditions have been met and the following information must be included:

  1. Dates of the event;
  2. Description of the event;
  3. State the policy limits;
  4. And special insurance requirements imposed by outside parties (such as limits or additional insured provisions).

Student Organizations Video



Agency Status: The condition or state under which one may be acting as an agent within the scope of liability protection under the SSLP.

Agent: A individual who is acting for or doing business with the university with or without pay and under the general direction and control of a university employee.

Campus Mission: The final component of the composite mission which states the specific objective statements of the institution and which defines the institution's uniqueness.

Core Mission: The second component of the composite mission which applies more specifically to (a) to the two research and doctoral universities, and (b) to the eleven comprehensive universities.

Employee: An individual who works for the State/University for pay.

Liability: A legal obligation or responsibility.

Negligence: The failure to use such care as a reasonably prudent and careful person would use under similar circumstances.

Negligent Acts or Omissions: Unintentional actions (or failures to act) which a reasonably prudent and careful person would (or would not) make in a similar circumstance.

Officer: The person or persons at the head of an agency.

Personal injury: Costs related to physical or mental injury, sickness, or disease including death.

Property damage: Physical injury to tangible property including all resulting loss of use of that property and loss of use of tangible property that is not physically injured.

State Self-Funded Liability Program: Statutory based program which provides defense and claim settlement to employees, officers, and agents of the State who have incurred legal obligations due to negligent actions while acting within the scope of employment or agency. See Wis. Statute 895.46.

Student Organizations: Any campus recognized organization of students, faculty, staff and others who share a common interest.

UW System Mission: The first component of the composite University of Wisconsin System mission which states the broad objectives of the university and which each institution shares.

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Revised 1/10/96