The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that an insurance policy covering student athlete travel should cover crash injuries suffered by a school soccer player who had been riding in the back of a teammate’s pickup truck on the way to a match.
In the case of Rodriguez v. United Sch. Dist. No. 500, the 10th grader, once active with a bright future, sustained permanent traumatic brain injuries that rendered him in need of 24-7 care for the rest of his life.
The question before the court was whether a under applicable state laws, school district policies and administrative guidelines the crash, which occurred in a private vehicle driven by another student, was considered “covered travel.” That’s the phrase that’s listed in the insurance policy, and that’s what the court was attempting to determine. The insurer insisted the travel was not covered, while the injured student’s parents, suing on his behalf, argued that it was.
According to court records, the crash in question occurred in August 2006, while the teammates were traveling to the first match of the season. Plaintiff’s son was in the back of the pickup truck, along with several other teammates. The pickup was involved in a crash with another vehicle, and plaintiff’s son was thrown from the back of the truck, suffering severe and life-altering injuries.
The athletes had been traveling to a school-sanctioned soccer match, which was organized by an association that contracts with a number of other school districts to provide extracurricular activities. That association had purchased an insurance policy that covered injuries that happened to team members and participants during association-sanctioned events, as well as travel to and from these events.
These included practice, try-outs and pre- and post-game activities (award banquets, etc.). The policy also stated coverage would be provided for travel that was subject to reimbursement. There was no stipulation that coverage would only be provided to an official driver.
Plaintiff’s parents sued the school district and the association (and its insurer) for damages. There was no question this game qualified as a “sanctioned” event. The primary question was whether the travel constituted “covered travel.”
In arguing the travel in this case was not covered, the insurer noted the school did not issue reimbursement to private drivers. Further, there was no statutory authorization for the school to reimburse private drivers for use of a private car to transport to school functions, and as a public entity, public approval was required for all expenses.
But plaintiffs argued the travel at the time of the traffic collision was subject to reimbursement, even if reimbursement wasn’t actually given. The student’s father had signed a permission slip at the start of the season, granting permission to ride with other players to and from practice and games.
At a bench trial, other team members testified they were never informed of an “official” transportation option provided by the school, which was why they were all traveling together in a teammate’s car.
Trial court and appellate court ruled coverage was not provided under the policy, but the state supreme court reversed.
State supreme court found that during the time of the accident, student was engaged in travel that was authorized under the policy and subject to reimbursement from the school and, per the plain terms of the policy, the accident was covered.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Rodriguez v. United Sch. Dist. No. 500, June 15, 2015, Kansas Supreme Court
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