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

The State of Wisconsin permits authorized University of Wisconsin System students to drive state vehicles. See Wisconsin Fleet Driver and Management Policies and Procedures Manual (2004), § 1.1.

Students are covered by the State Self-Funded Liability Program:

  • If they have signed a Vehicle Use Agreement and
  • the students are authorized by the University to drive University fleet vehicles for qualified and authorized purposes

Coverage will only apply when the vehicle is being operated for the intended purpose.

See additional details on the UW System Student, Student Organizations and Liability Coverage page.

Student use of rental vehicles under state or Big Ten Contract

Please contact Risk Management for more information.

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.


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