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Appeals Court: $41.5 Million Jury Award in Study-Abroad Case Could Discourage School Trips

August 04, 2015

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​The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision yesterday in the so-called Hotchkiss School “tick-bite case,” a study-abroad liability suit in which ACE submitted an amicus brief last year.

The federal appeals court asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to help it decide the validity of a $41.5 million jury award to the family of Cara Munn, who was injured on a school-sponsored trip to China in 2007. 

Munn contracted tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), the “first U.S. traveler” ever to contract TBEV in China, according to a Centers for Disease Control report.

In referring questions of state law and policy for consideration, the federal court noted that the sheer size of the award “might discourage schools and other organizations from offering such trips for fear that they will suffer a crippling lawsuit.”

The appeals court asked the high court in Connecticut to focus on two points: whether the state's public policy requires schools to warn or protect against serious insect-borne diseases when it organizes trips abroad; and whether the size of the award is appropriate.

The three-judge panel said that the Connecticut Supreme Court had never before considered the excessiveness of an “award of this magnitude.”

“To impose a duty on Connecticut schools to warn about or protect against risks as remote as tick-borne encephalitis might discourage field trips that serve important educational roles,” the appeals court said. “If the costs imposed on schools and non-profit organizations become too high, such trips might be curtailed or cease completely, depriving children of valuable opportunities. Public policy may thus require that participants bear the risks of unlikely injuries and illnesses such as the one that occurred in this case so that institutions can continue to offer these activities.”

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