Students, Student Organizations, and Liability Coverage

Overview about liability coverage for students and student organizations.

Liability coverage available through the State of Wisconsin Self-Funded Liability Program is very limited for student situations. Students and student organizations should be aware—with certain exceptions explained herein—most student organization activities are not covered by the University’s liability programs. Student organizations should be aware of the limits of the coverage and, at times, may need to purchase separate insurance.

While this page provides guidance, the final decision as to whether liability coverage exists for any group or an individual rests with the Wisconsin Attorney General, Department of Justice, and all coverage decisions are dependent upon the facts of the situation in which the damage or loss occurred.

Defining coverage

The State of Wisconsin and its arms and agencies, including the University of Wisconsin System, cover the cost of damages and provides legal representation for defendants who are proceeded against in an official capacity for actions while performing their duties as an officer or employee in the scope of employment or for acts committed by authorized agents in the scope of their agency under Wis. Stats. § 895.46 and § 893.82.

An agency relationship must be established and maintained with UW–Madison in order for liability coverage to be extended in these limited situations. In particular, UW–Madison students may qualify as “agents” of the University for purposes of liability coverage under certain limited circumstances as are discussed in this section.

Whether a student is an agent depends on the following: (1) is the student performing an act that falls within the University’s educational mission and/or outreach activities; and (2) is the student participating in an activity under the direction and control of the University.

General propositions necessary for liability coverage to attach are described below.

University Program / Course

  • University Program:
    • The practical training or program is under the purview of the University (i.e. developed, managed and controlled by the University); and
    • The activities that the student performs must be within the scope of the activities which the student is directed to perform by the University as part of his or her fulfillment of the requirements of the practical training or program. OR
  • University Course:
    • The specific training or activity is approved by the University as meeting the objectives or requirements of a for-credit course that counts towards a university degree or professional certification.
    • Such University approved training or activity must be evidenced by documentations that identifies the objectives for the course and a means of evaluating the student (e.g., course description and syllabus); and
    • The activities that the student performs must be within the scope of activities which the student is directed to perform by the University as part of his or her fulfillment of the requirements of the training or activity; and
    • If the training or activity takes place at a facility or site that is not operated by the University, the University’s relationship with that site should be evidenced by a written affiliation agreement or like documentation that sets for the responsibilities of the University and the training site.
  • While not an exhaustive list, the following are examples of training programs or activities that meet the above requirements:
    • Internal University-managed program designed to provide students with unique training opportunities that may or may not be for credit (e.g. MEDiC, UWPD First Responders, Law School Clinics, etc.)
    • Participation in a practical training or internship in which the University exercises substantial control over the requirements of the training or internship as evidenced by a written student affiliation agreement (e.g. practicum or internship that is part of a for-credit course).

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Student employees

Students employed by the University—even where such employment is considered to be incidental to student status (such as teaching and research assistants)—are covered by the State Self-Funded Liability Program for their actions committed while performing their duties as an employee and within the scope of their employment.

Student organizations

Generally, no coverage from the State Self-Funded Liability Program is extended to student organizations or their offices. This includes no coverage for student organization events unless jointly sponsored and managed by UW–Madison.

Student Organizations should check with their national chapter to determine if insurance coverage is provided to local chapters or speak with an insurance professional regarding obtaining coverage.

Also, special event coverage is available (and may be required) through UW–Madison Risk Management Office for events occurring on UW-Madison campus property (see the Facilities & Events page).

Student government

Students participating in governance and/or policy development for the University are likely to be covered by the State Self-Funded Liability Program while acting in their official capacities as student government leaders or while acting in the scope of their duties for the University as participants in governance. Students have been vested with governance responsibilities by state statute, see Wis. Stat. § 36.09(5).

Internships and similar programs

Coverage depends upon the nature of the internship program, but is generally extended where the student is either receiving degree credit or the internship is a degree requirement (meeting requirements discussed above). Students should direct questions to program advisors.

Student field trips

See the Office of Risk Management’s UW–Madison Field Trip Guidance (PDF) for University sponsored field trips occurring as part of a UW–Madison course, program, or event.

The guidance documents includes these form templates:

  • Field Trip Participation and Emergency Contact Form
  • Alternative Transportation Waiver for Campus Field Trip

If you have specific questions related to this document, please email us at

Student volunteers

Students volunteering for University events or student organizations holding events that are jointly sponsored by the University are likely to be considered agents of the University and thus covered by the State Self-Funded Liability Program for acts committed in the scope of that agency.

Student use of University vehicles


Use of State of Wisconsin/Fleet vehicles is only allowed for university business purposes. Rental and personal vehicle usage: see important information on the Automobile Insurance page for coverage requirements for business versus personal use; also see UWSA Travel for further details and eligible renter requirements.

Student drivers

University of Wisconsin student drivers must meet the requirements of university business use as defined in UWSA Policy 616 in order to drive a State/Fleet vehicle or to utilize the State of Wisconsin/NASPO Hertz Rental Contract. Non-business use situations require the use of a non-university vehicle, such as personal vehicle or the Non-Business Use Big Ten Vehicle Rental Contract Option (requires purchase of insurance by driver).

Student drivers must receive authorization from a campus official (supervisor, academic department, or administrative official) to qualify for University business use. Drivers renting/reserving a vehicle from UW Fleet are required to document the name of the authorizing campus official through the Fleet Reservation System (document in the “Customer Comments” field) and/or at the Fleet counter prior to vehicle being released.

In the event of an incident requiring response by State of WI insurance (liability or property) an investigation by State of WI Department of Administration to confirm valid business use will be conducted. Non-compliance with the policy will result in State of Wisconsin coverage denial and resulting in personal liability of the driver.

After reviewing the vehicle use against the UWSA Policy 616, methods of documenting business use by the applicable campus unit include:

  • Evidence of Employment of the Student
  • Volunteer Letter on file
  • Authorization via email from Dean, Associate Dean, Director, Supervisor or their designee to the Student Driver.

Here is an example of what should be documented by the Schools, College, or Department (“S/C/D”) for each specific event/instance:

“UW-Madison Student [insert name], is authorized by [insert name, title, email of the campus official], of [insert campus S/C/D name], to drive fleet vehicle for [list purpose and date(s)]”

Please note: if a fleet vehicle is reserved for the usage, the information shall be updated and added within the Fleet Reservation System‘s Reservation Information section Customer Comments field.

If other documentation exists with the campus Schools, Colleges, or Departments as evidence of authorization (such as email direction, agreements, or other), that documentation may be utilized to aid in confirmation of business use. The information must be retained by the S/C/D and made available in the event of a claim or for audit purposes.

Questions on determination of business use may be directed to

Vehicle use restrictions

  • Drivers are not permitted to use a state/fleet vehicle for a personal purpose. The only exceptions to this rule are incidental stops during authorized business use.
    • Examples: stops at a restaurant for a meal, an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) or financial institution, urgent care or emergency room, or a gas station/convenience store.
  • Drivers should remember public perception of state employees is important and influenced by how and where the public sees state vehicles being used. Drivers should not make incidental stops at locations the public would perceive as inappropriate.
    • Examples: gaming and sports venues, liquor outlets, and other locations where it is unlikely that any state business or allowable incidental use is involved.
  • Drivers required to stay overnight(s) away from home may, with permission of their supervisor, use a state vehicle for the types of necessary activity that could be expected of a traveler away from home.
    • Examples: evening use to go to a pharmacy, grocery, laundromat, fitness center, or other locations to purchase goods or conduct activities necessary for the employee’s health and well-being.

The above guidelines also apply to use of personal and rental vehicles during business use. Operation of these vehicles outside of the above parameters would be considered personal use; State Self-Funded Liability Program excess automobile liability coverage is not extended in these situations.

All applicable rules of the road must be followed at all times for any University business purpose vehicle operation.

See additional details on the UW System Student, Student Organizations and Liability Coverage page, and UW System Administrative Policy 615 – Vehicle Use and Driver Authorization, C. Driver Authorization and Vehicle Use Matrix section.

Student use of rental vehicles under state or Big Ten Contract

University of Wisconsin student drivers must meet the requirements of university business use as defined in UWSA Policy 616 in order to utilize the State of Wisconsin/UW System Big 10 contract, as outlined above in the Student Use of University Vehicles, and UW System Administrative Policy 615 – Vehicle Use and Driver Authorization, C. Driver Authorization and Vehicle Use Matrix section.

Non-business use situations require the use of a non-university vehicle, such as personal vehicle or the Non-Business Use Big Ten Vehicle Rental Contract Option (requires purchase of insurance by driver).

The Big Ten contract allows for personal use by UW students; however, these reservations are made through a separate online portal. Personal rentals using the Big Ten contract do not include insurance; this can be purchased separately.

UW System – Learn more about personal use contracts

Additional coverage

In addition to the self-funded coverage, the following commercial insurance liability related products are purchased to cover gaps in the State Self-Funded and excess programs:

  • Student Travel Accident Insurance. Medical coverage product for foreign students traveling to UW–Madison on a shortened visit (5-364 days) and that are not otherwise eligible for other coverages. $3.85 per day per participant charged back to unit or individual.

There are also some extra insurance products made available to campus students, staff, and guests/visitors to generally provide health/travel coverage in effort to ensure individuals are covered and reduce risk to University:

Note –  UWSA has been investigating a blanket liability program for student organizations through AON. At this time the policy has not been generally favored by campuses. However, Risk Management recommends continued conversation in this area.


Risk Management's location

Risk Management
21 N. Park Street
Madison, WI 53715

Note – Please contact the appropriate topic area’s email address with questions and/or to schedule an in-person meeting. Advanced meeting scheduling is necessary in order to meet with Risk Management staff; drop-in appointments are not available.

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