Public universities have no duty to protect students from other students’ criminal acts

In this case, a student attending a state university was stabbed by a fellow student during a chemistry laboratory. Prior to the stabbing, the assailant had received treatment for schizophrenia from the university’s mental health services, and had also exhibited violent tendencies. The victim of the stabbing filed suit against the university, alleging negligence. The university moved for summary judgment on the basis that it had no duty to protect the plaintiff. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the university did owe the plaintiff a duty based on her status as 1) a student, and 2) a “business invitee” on university property. The university filed a petition for writ of mandate. The Second Appellate District granted the petition, holding that a public university does not have a duty to protect its adult students from criminal acts committed by third parties. The court found that well-established precedent holds that there is no “special relationship” between a university and an adult student such that the university has a duty to protect the student from third-party criminal misconduct. The court further held that while students are generally considered “business invitees” when on university property, and property owners have a duty to protect their invitees from foreseeable harm by third parties, this duty to protect only applies to private landowners, not public entity landowners. As public entity landowners, state universities can only be held liable for injuries that arise from a “dangerous condition” on the property, i.e. a physical defect in the property. [Regents of the University of California v. Superior Court, (Cal. Ct. App. 2015) 14 C.D.O.S. 11047]

Categories: Legal Developments