Court sets new standard for campus liability
- The California Supreme Court ruled that a student stabbed in a University of California, Los Angeles chemistry lab almost nine years ago was the result of limited negligence on the institution. The justices said UCLA was responsible for control over the classroom environment, but not the actions of an individual student, the The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
- In their ruling the justices wrote: “Education is at the core of a college’s mission, and the classroom is the quintessential setting for curricular activities. Perhaps more than any other place on campus, colleges can be expected to retain a measure of control over the classroom environment.” This ruling, according to some observers, could be a test for future cases.
- A lower court will now decide on the merits of UCLA's monitoring and counseling interventions for Damon Thompson, who was found criminally not responsible for the attempted murder because of a paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis.
This decision, depending on the assessment of courts in various states that could hear similar cases, could open the door for institutions to have greater responsibility for a variety of campus crimes. From petty larceny to sexual assault, students could become more aggressive in charging schools with a lack of protection for property and well-being.
This matters because it could translate into increased costs for students, redirected budgeting for general counsel, insurance and heightened security measures. For students and parents, this should create a lot of concern for annual costs. For campus leaders and trustees, it could require an exhaustive review of how campus student conduct language is developed and partnerships with local police are managed.
Leaders should consider having general counsel review case law with incidents involving mental health concerns, and to offer enhanced awareness building or training for students and faculty on how to deal with students under stress or who display erratic behavior.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education Court decision may signal more legal liability for colleges over violent crimes