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A school is going on an excursion. The child is given the permission slip to take home and get signed by his legal guardian, but he forges the signature instead. On the excursion, he gets injured. Who is legally responsible for the child? Is it the school (since the waiver is void, and by default the school is responsible for the child when a roll is taken) or the parent (since the school sincerely thought the parent had signed the waiver and if the waiver was correctly signed then the parent would be responsible)?

Preferred jurisdiction Australia; I will accept any answer however.

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    I have tried writing an answer, but as vague as it is, an answer would need to cover so much ground, you would probably not get a decent one. What do you define as "responsible"? Do you mean liable for costs of the injuries? Do you mean criminal negligence if something bad happens to the kid? What kind of injury was it? Was it something specific to the heightened danger of the trip, or just an everyday "kid stumbles, falls, hurts his knees"? Do you want to know who comes up for the doctors costs of treating the direct injuries, or claims over a lifetime, if the kid is permanently hurt?
    – nvoigt
    Aug 11, 2023 at 10:03
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    How good was the forgery? Should a normal layman have detected it, or was the kid really good at what they did? For some of the above cases this matters, for others is completely irrelevant. Are you interested in only claims by the parents as guardians of the kid directly, or would you be interested in how the kids health insurance and the liability insurance of the teachers employer battle it out behind the scenes on who need to reimburse who for which part costs?
    – nvoigt
    Aug 11, 2023 at 10:06
  • It is not at all clear what you mean by "responsible". The adult with the child is responsible for their immediate care and handling any emergency or injury that comes up (apparently a teacher in the situation outlined). Who is financially responsible for the costs associated with an injury? Likely whatever healthcare system the child is enrolled in, regardless of if they are on a properly authorized school trip or not. There are other types of "responsibility" as well.
    – abelenky
    Aug 11, 2023 at 21:11
  • What exactly is the waiver supposed to achieve if it is signed by the legal guardian? I would have thought the idea is the parents signs that the school is temporarily taking care of the child and responsible for it but you make it sound like the parent signs that the school looks after the child but the parent is responsible anyway which sounds very strange?
    – quarague
    Aug 12, 2023 at 9:12
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    Given that the school is required to take proper care whether a permission slip exists or not, I wonder why permission slips are still a thing. Is it just a tradition and a vague feeling that it would dilute liability? Aug 17, 2023 at 14:23

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So many things were not addressed, so a precise answer is not possible.
But to try to raise the proper questions you should be thinking about:

Should the school have known the permission slip was forged?
Was the forgery particularly bad, and the school was lax in not examining it? Did the student have a history of forging slips that the school should have been aware of?

If the school was negligent in accepting an obviously bad signature, they may find their exposure is increased. If the school had no reasonable way to know the slip was forged, they were acting reasonably in taking the student on an excursion.

Was the injury typical, foreseeable and recoverable?
Such as a broken ankle on a hike? Minor accidents happen even when all reasonable precautions are taken. The injury will heal with time and care.

Was the activity that lead to the injury inherently risky / dangerous?
There is definitely a question of if the school took all reasonable precautions. Even if permission was legitimately given, the school is responsible for taking reasonable precautions, especially if the activity has inherit and obvious dangers. (for example, river-rafting or rock climbing)

What sort of "responsibility" are you interested in?
If you're asking who is financially responsible for the cost of treating the injury, then regardless of how it occurred, it would likely fall to the child's health insurance (presumably provided by the parents).

If the school was truly negligent in allowing a forged permission slip to a dangerous activity, then they could be found responsible for extraordinary costs associated with the injury, other costs (pain, suffering, loss of opportunity, emotional consequences, etc) and perhaps even punitive damages.

If you're suggesting that someone might be criminally responsible, then a very high bar would need to be cleared. It would need to be proven that a school representative (eg. teacher or administrator) deliberately put the kid in danger for some reason, knowing what the likely outcome would be. That standard seems extremely unlikey to be met.

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    I don’t know much about Australia, and I’m not a lawyer in any jurisdiction. But I think in some jurisdictions, there is such a thing as criminal negligence, i.e., "deliberately" & "knowing" aren't necessarily elements. (?)
    – WGroleau
    Aug 13, 2023 at 14:10
  • I suspect that in the last paragraph, the presence or absence of a valid permission slip would not make any difference; parents can't consent to put their child in unreasonable danger. Aug 17, 2023 at 14:21
  • @Paul Johnson: Parents certainly can consent to activities that carry significant inherent risk, such as horseback riding, rock climbing, white-water rafting, etc. The Permission Slip allows the parents to weigh the risk against the benefit, and decide what is "unreasonable".
    – abelenky
    Aug 17, 2023 at 15:02
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Assuming consent is actually required1 and the forged signature is convincing enough: in absence of statute or case law to the contrary (that I can find) I suggest that the school has accepted loco parentis responsibility for the child by taking him on the trip.

Also assuming the injury was caused by the school's lack of proper safeguarding, negligence, recklessness etc the school would - depending on the particular circumstances - be responsible for the injury as the following government's Health and safety: responsibilities and duties for schools guidance would apply:

Teachers and other staff in schools have a common law duty when in charge of pupils to take the same care of them as they would as a parent.

Source


1NB consent is not always required. The government's Health and safety on educational visits guidance establishes that:

A school must always get written consent for nursery age children.

For children over nursery age, written consent is not needed for most trips, as they’re part of the curriculum. However, it’s good practice to tell parents about them.

Written consent is usually only needed for trips that:

  • need a higher level of risk assessment

  • are outside normal school hours

Source

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    I never really thought permission slips were related to health and safety. Merely that parents expect to know where their children are, so they need to be consent when they'll be taken off school grounds.
    – Barmar
    Aug 12, 2023 at 19:02
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The school has a duty of care towards its students

If they discharged that duty, they are not responsible (liable); if they didn’t, they are.

The duty is discharged by acting reasonably. Without knowing what the school did or did not do and how, if at all, that contributed to the injury, it’s impossible to guess if they met that standard.

This is the same as the negligence standard that applies to everybody. The only difference with a school is that the duty always exists towards students and the duty is non-delegable, that is, even if control is passed to someone else (e.g. the bus or venue operator) the school still holds the duty (as well as the delegate).

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