For young students, schools not only serve as a place of learning, but also provide essential oversight and supervision to children who are too young to care for themselves. Of course, as students get older, they can care for themselves. However, they still spend a significant portion of their time on campus. Thus, the duty that colleges and universities have to their students is the subject of much discussion and debate.
Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a California school injury case discussing the duty a state college has to its students. While the case involved the intentional conduct of another student, the most important part of the opinion was the language discussing the school’s duty to students.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was attacked by another student with a knife. Evidently, the student who attacked the plaintiff had a documented history of mental health issues, and had explained to numerous staff members that he felt as though his fellow students were out to get him. In one example, the student claimed to have overheard fellow students plotting to shoot him.
As a result of the attack, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the school and its administrators. While government entities are not typically responsible for the injuries they cause to others, the plaintiff claimed her lawsuit fell within an exception that permitted a government agency to be held liable for the wrongful conduct of its employees. The plaintiff argued that the administrators failed to protect her from foreseeable threats of violence.
The school made several arguments in response, first claiming that it did not have a duty to protect adult students. The school also contended that, even if it did have a duty, the school’s actions in providing mental health treatment to the student who attacked the plaintiff fulfilled that duty.
The Court’s Opinion
The court determined that the school owed the plaintiff a duty of care and that the plaintiff’s evidence established that the school might have violated that duty. The court explained that “colleges and universities have a special relationship with their students,” but that some aspects of college-life are beyond the control of a school. Thus, the court held that the school has a duty to protect students from “foreseeable acts of violence in the classroom or during curricular activities.”
Here, the court noted that the plaintiff was injured while in a chemistry lab, which was undoubtedly a “curricular” activity. However, the court explained that it still had to be determined whether the school was sufficiently aware of the danger presented by the attacking student and if the school’s actions were sufficient to safeguard other students. The evidence on these issues, the court noted, was conflicting and subject to interpretation. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff’s evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact on these issues, and allowed the case to proceed to trial, where a jury would make the ultimate determination.
Have You Been Injured on Campus?
If you or your child has recently been injured while on the campus of a private or state-owned college or university, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. At Neumann Law Group, we represent injury victims across Southern California in all types of claims, including California premises liability cases. To learn more, call 213-277-0001 to schedule your free consultation today.
See Related Posts:
California Court Finds College May Be Liable for Injuries Sustained by Visiting Athlete, California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 10, 2018.
California Appellate Court Discusses the Sudden Emergency Doctrine in Recent Road Rage Case, California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 29, 2018.