Boisson v. Arizona Board of Regents – 3/10/2015

March 24, 2015

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a university owes no duty of care to students participating in study-abroad programs.

Morgan Boisson, an undergraduate student at University of Arizona, participated in a study-abroad program established by UA and the Arizona Board of Regents.  While in China, Morgan joined together with other students to take a side trip to Tibet, and made arrangements with a separate tour company.  Morgan developed altitude sickness while visiting base camp at Mount Everest and died.  His mother brought a wrongful death suit against UA and the Board.  The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the grounds that they owed no affirmative duty of care to students participating in overseas trips.  Ms. Boisson timely appealed.

In a unanimous decision, a panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed.  While previous Arizona cases have held that universities owe a duty to students for on-campus activities, the court held that this trip was not an off-campus school activity by examining a number of legal factors, such as whether the activity was part of a course curriculum and whether the risk encountered by the students was independent of school involvement.  The court rejected the testimony of an expert witness who opined that universities should owe a categorical standard of care to study-abroad students because the question of duty is a question of law for courts to decide.  The court also rejected the request to impose such a duty as a matter of public policy.

To see the Osborn Maledon Client Alert on this case, click here. 

Judge Thumma wrote the opinion for the court; Judges Downie and Gould joined