Risk Management and Legal Liability
The most common legal issue with RSOs is negligence – Personal injuries sustained while attending an activity sponsored by a student group. The general standard in this situation is that you must behave the way a reasonable person would in a similar situation. Does not call for extraordinary insight or some other quality that an average person normally would not apply to similar circumstances
Managing Risk with Event Planning
Every event planned comes with some level of risk. If an event is planned in which there is some identified level of risk, then your group should take steps to ensure that the risk is minimized. Some kinds of activities — such as tug of war, weight-lifting contests, and eating and drinking competitions — are inherently more risky, and if it is possible, your group should plan substitute events. Although things can go wrong even when events are well planned, keeping the “reasonable person” standard in mind and trying to anticipate problems and provide solutions in advance makes excellent sense. Review the Event Management Form for guidance on the types of things that should be discussed when planning an event.
Here are a few considerations and points of information for managing risk at an event:
Industry standards should be followed if they are available. For example, whenever equipment is to be used for an event, your group should follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer on how to use the equipment. In addition, governing bodies, such as the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, are sources of information on how to provide for the safety of participants in various activities.
If people supervising various elements of an event are required to have a certain level of skill, they should be trained in accordance with the industry standards. If an organization is having a swimming event, for example, the lifeguards should be trained to meet Red Cross (or equivalent) standards. Industry standards should never be compromised.
Please see the Office of Risk Management’s policies on Fleet Vehicle Use for Registered Student Organizations.
One common way for organizations to attempt to minimize risk is by asking participants to sign waiver forms. Waiver forms are usually worded in such a way as to absolve the organization (and its leaders) from any responsibility for injury that may result from participating in the activity. The assumption is that by having students waive their right to hold anyone responsible for their injuries, the institution will be held harmless from whatever occurs. In fact, these types of waivers do not carry that force with them.
Waivers have a more useful purpose: they can serve as documentation that the participant is aware of the risks involved in participating in certain kinds of activities. UW student organizations can have waiver forms designed and approved by the Risk Management Office. Contact the Risk Management Office by calling 262-8925.
Another way to minimize risk is to purchase insurance, including health and accident insurance as well as liability insurance. The Risk Management Office has a Special Event Insurance Policy available to student organizations to minimize their risk. Contact the Risk Management Office at 262-8925.
Although copyright laws are often considered in the context of photocopying sections of books and using the materials for class, there is much more to these laws. Organizations are more vulnerable to violating the copyright law as it applies to the use of videos or music.
The Fair Use Doctrine comprises four elements:
- The purpose and character of the use of the material, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
- The nature of the copyrighted work.
- The amount of the work that was used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
- The effect of its use upon the potential market (Kaplin and Lee, 1995.)
Renting a video or using someone’s personal copy of a video and showing it at a club meeting, a residence hall lounge, or at a fraternity house may seem like a harmless, inexpensive form of entertainment. The problem with this scenario, unfortunately, is that it constitutes a public showing of a video, which is illegal; assuming the material included in the video is copyrighted and those exhibiting the video have not purchased a special license. Without an agreement from the copyright holder, no one can show videos in a public forum even if no fees or ticket sales are involved.
Similarly, the use of music is governed by copyright laws. Generally speaking, students cannot make copies of music performances and sell them as a fund-raiser without violating the law (James, 1988).
The best risk management technique regarding alcohol is that it should not be available at student events. However, if the organization chooses to host an event with alcohol, they must abide by all aspects of the Student Organization Alcohol Policy.
Maloney (1988) points to two legal aspects of handling money:
- More than one person should be responsible for financial transactions.
- An organization must follow federal, state, local and university guidelines
- The advisor does not serve as the organization’s treasurer, but should be keeping a careful eye on the legal aspects of how the organization handles its funds.
Hazing is defined as “any action taken or situation created, intentionally, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.” Although it is less common today, it has been known to be part of the ritual of certain organizations and clubs. “Advisors and students should be aware that, if found guilty, students who engage in hazing others where an injury results could be dismissed from school, fined, imprisoned, and be assessed damages.” (Gehring, 1987). The Wisconsin Hazing law is below, and you should also view the RSO Code of Conduct regarding hazing.
Wisconsin State Statute – 948.51 Hazing
- In this section “forced activity” means any activity which is a condition of initiation or admission into or affiliation with an organization, regardless of a student’s willingness to participate in the activity.
- No person may intentionally or recklessly engage in acts which endanger the physical health or safety of a student for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with any organization operating in connection with a school, college, or university. Under those circumstances, prohibited acts include any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug or other substance, forced confinement or any other forced activity which endangers the physical health or safety of the student.
- Whoever violates sub (2) is guilty of: (a) A Class A misdemeanor if the act results in or is likely to result in bodily harm to another. (b) A Class H felony if the act results in great bodily harm to another. (c) A Glass G felony if the act results in the death of another.
Accessibility of Events and Organization Participation
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by the reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” (cited by Kaplin and Lee, 1995.)
Federal law prohibits excluding students from participating in campus organizations and activities. Meetings and activities must be held in buildings accessible to students who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids. If activities require special accommodations for students with disabilities, those accommodations must be provided. For example, a student who has a hearing impairment may require an interpreter.
Those examples are not all inclusive, therefore, if you have questions regarding a request made under the Americans With Disabilities Act, please call McBurney Disability Resource Center at 263-2741. The McBurney Disability Resource Center also created a document with suggestions and information on how to provide Event Accessibility. Please use this document as a resource when working with your organization to assess the accessibility of the organization’s meetings and events.
The ‘Support For Students With Disabilities’ fund is a $15,000 fund that ASM has that is meant to help students with disabilities to attend extracurricular activities, such as student org. events. This fund was created when students realized that the University’s support for students with disabilities, such as deafness or blindness, only extended to the classroom. Any student who was interested in participating in extracurricular activities, thus, had to find an alternative way to pay for a translator or whatever sort of disability support they needed.