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California Court Creates Special Duty for Colleges to Protect Students

03/28/2018

On March 22, 2018, the top California Court stated for the first time that there is a special relationship between colleges and their enrolled students which gives rise to an exception to the general rule that there is no duty to act to protect others from the conduct of third parties. The special relationship creates a duty to protect or warn students from foreseeable acts of violence in classroom activities. In the case before the court, The Regents of the University of California (UCLA) v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles (Rosen), a female student was seriously injured by a fellow student in a chemistry lab class when the fellow student attacked her from behind with a kitchen knife. Although the attacker had not previously exhibited violent tendencies and had denied any plans of violence, UCLA allegedly had knowledge of the attacker’s schizophrenia, that he had been hearing voices, and that he had recently begun identifying the victim as someone whom he thought had called him names. 

 

In defining this duty, the court was careful to say that colleges did not have a duty to prevent all violence on their campuses nor all violence toward students. The court noted that it would be unrealistic to extend the duty to the public at large, to unpreventable violence, and to off-campus and student social activities unrelated to school. “Rather, the school’s duty is to take reasonable steps to protect students when it becomes aware of a foreseeable threat to their safety.”

 

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