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Handbook for Student Organizations

Risk Reduction + Management

While student organizations on this campus use University facilities, and their development is encouraged, the University does not accord student groups approval or endorsement with respect to their practices, ideas, or projects. Student organizations in no way officially represent the University. As such, student organizations are not provided liability protection from UW-Eau Claire or from UW System.


    The following section is quoted verbatim from Dunkel, N.W., & Schuh, J.H. (1998)
    Advising student groups and organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    pp. 173–174.

Our discussion of managing risk should start with defining a tort. “A tort is generally defined as a civil wrong other than the breach of a contract for which courts will provide a remedy in the form of damages” (Gehring, 1987, p. 137). In the case of advising, the most common tort is negligence. “Negligence demands that a duty of care be breached; and, as a result, an injury occurs. The duty or standard of care may be breached by an act of omission or commission” (Gehring, 1987, p. 161). Whipple (1996, citing Fenske and Johnson, 1990) points out that "tort law has most often been applied in negligent [sic] cases relating to personal injuries sustained while attending an activity sponsored by student group or institution, while transiting university property, or while on a class field trip. Higher education institutions have a duty to protect their students and other invited guests from known or reasonable foreseeable dangers" (p. 326).

Although the risk of lawsuits centering on negligence is obvious, and you are not immune from being sued, nevertheless certain elements must be present for litigation to be successful for the plaintiff or claimant. Barr (1988b) identifies three elements that must be present in a negligence claim: (1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the claimant,
(2) the defendant breached that duty, and (3) the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the injury. The applicable general standard in this situation is that you must behave like a "reasonable person," that is behave the way a reasonable person would in a similar situation. The standard does not call for extraordinary insight, prescience, or some other quality that an average person normally would not apply to similar circumstances.

College students tend to see themselves as being invulnerable to accidents and injuries, and they may plan events without carefully reflecting on the risks involved. Thus it falls to you to apply the "reasonable person" standard to student events, reviewing activities with officers and other members who are planning programs and making sure that risks have been identified and minimized.

In practical terms, the “reasonable person” standard means that normal precautions should be taken to prevent problems from occurring that a reasonable person would anticipate. You are not expected to foresee that falling space junk will hit a car and cause an accident resulting in injuries to passengers. On the other hand, "having the college touch football champions scrimmage with the Super Bowl champions would make no sense" (Schuh and Ogle, 1993, p. 113), because this activity would involve a great deal of risk, considering the physical size of the players and their level of skill. A reasonable person would not schedule such an event.


Our discussion about risk management and reduction is not to scare you or members of your organization, but rather to help inform you so you may make appropriate and wise decisions regarding the activities and events your organization sponsors. With your understanding of risk and legal issues, you can help your fellow organization members to understand and make better choices. Remember, student organizations do not receive liability protection from UW-Eau Claire or UW System, and therefore the organization and individual organization members can be held liable in the event of an injury, accident, or death resulting from participation in an organization activity.

Here are some suggestions for discussing risk reduction and management within your organization and possible questions to pose to your members.


  1. Encourage the group to plan activities and programs that fulfill the mission and goals of the group.
  2. Challenge individuals or the group when you believe a program does not fulfill the mission and goals of the group.
  3. Be clear that you do not condone activities/events/programs that involve risky, dangerous, or non-inclusive behavior.
  4. Use the “reasonable person” standard…ask yourself if a “reasonable person” would make the same decision in a similar situation.
  5. For activities/programs/events, use industry standards (instructions for set-up and use of equipment) and/or governing body regulations when available.


  1. How does this activity/event/program fulfill the mission and goals of the organization?
  2. What is the purpose of the activity/event/program? Can the purpose be fulfilled with an alternative activity that is less risky?
  3. Is this event inclusive of all members of the organization? Can all members legally participate in this event?
  4. What are the foreseeable risks of this activity and what are the possible consequences?

Special Issues

Hold Harmless Agreements (Waivers)
Student Driving