In a recent California personal injury case, a student brought a negligence claim against the University of Southern California (USC) for injuries she suffered at a fraternity party. The student, who was not attending USC, was apparently attending a fraternity party near USC and was dancing on a makeshift platform when another person bumped into her. The student fell and suffered serious injuries as a result. The student claimed that USC had a duty to protect her from an unreasonable risk of harm and that the University failed to protect her by failing to shut down or prevent the party.
The Duty of Care
A California personal injury case brought under the theory of negligence requires the injury victim to show that the defendant owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff. Generally, every person has a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid injuring others. However, a person who does not create a risk does not typically have a duty to protect others from harm. And generally, a person does not have to protect individuals from the conduct of third parties. In certain cases, there may be a duty to protect others from the conduct of third parties, such as where someone undertakes the duty of protecting another person or where a special relationship exists.
In this case, a California appellate court held that the University did not have a duty to protect members of the public from the conduct of a third party at an off-campus fraternity party. The court acknowledged that the school has control over the campus, its rules and disciplinary measures, and campus police. However, as the California Supreme Court stated, universities have a special relationship with their students while the students are engaging in school activities—but that does not extend to “student behavior over which the university has no significant degree of control.”