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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tort Liability for universities

Tort Liability:
"One of the primary areas of legal liability that risk management addresses is tort liability, which is generally defined as "a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, for which the courts will allow a damage remedy" (Kaplin and Lee p 98)"
Do universities have a duty to protect students from harm?   "... In Mullins v. Pine Manor College (1983) and Tarasoff v. Board of Regents of the university of California (1976) , the courts clearly articulated heightened duties for colleges and universities to their students and others ....A series of cases in the 1990s including Furek v. The University of Delaware (1991) and Nero v. Kansas State University (1993) continued in the view of earlier duty cases as courts ruled that institutions had an obligation in the prevention of foreseeable harm..."

(from Risk Management in Higher Education-Tort Liability, Other Sources of Risk, on the web at http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages2378/Roisk-Mangement-in-H..)

An interesting set of question develops.
  • Are the springfest riots a foreseeable event that JMU has prior knowledge of and does JMU have any responsibility to take action to protect students from harm at springfest? 
  • Do any of the legal theories of liability apply to JMU and the lack of effective action to change the negative alcohol culture?  Does the Springfest event meet one of these basis of liability: 2) when a prevailing dangerous practice is common by students (such as hazing in pledge initiations), it is known by college officials and addressed in policy statements, but reasonable efforts are not made to stop or limit such practices, and 3) officials are aware of a specific dangerous activity where injury results, but do not take reasonable steps to limit the possibility of the foreseeable danger..."
  • Are there JMU cases with similar sets of facts to previous court decisions that might lead to lawsuits?
  • Does the Tarasoff v. Board of Regents of the University of California case have some applicability to JMU.  " In Tarasoff, the court determined that the duty to warn others about threatened harm arises only when there is a specifically foreseeable person or group or persons targeted by the threat of harm.."  (see College and University Liability for Violent Campus Attacks, by Bret A. Sokolow, W. Scott Lewis, James A. Keller and Augrey Daly, Journal of College and University Law , 12/.4/.20008)
  • Does the "special relationship" theory of liability apply to JMU as it relates to students harmed by alcohol activities.
  • Is there a case where a plaintiff can show that the university had specific knowledge, putting it on reasonable notice that the person would act imminently to cause harm involving alcohol.
Perhaps there are legal minds out there who would find this an interesting area of law to explore.

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