Colleges in California have a responsibility to protect students from foreseeable acts of violence in the classroom and other settings connected to their studies and can be held liable for failing to do so, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The decision came in a lawsuit against the University of California regents by a UCLA student, Katherine Rosen, who was stabbed by a classmate in 2009 during a chemistry class. Rosen said school officials failed to warn students that her attacker, then 21-year-old Damon Thompson, was potentially violent despite months of reports about his paranoid and threatening behavior.
Thompson acknowledged the attack and was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a mental hospital.
A spokeswoman for the University of California referred comment to UCLA, which did not immediately respond to an email.
The state Supreme Court unanimously overturned a lower court decision and allowed Rosen’s lawsuit against the university to continue.
The majority in Thursday’s ruling said colleges have a “special relationship with students while they are engaged in activities that are part of the school’s curriculum or closely related to its delivery of educational services.”
College campuses are communities where many students, though they may no longer be minors, are living on their own for the first time, Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, writing for the majority said. Colleges have mental health counselors, campus police and resident advisers, impose rules and can monitor and discipline students, she added.
“Students are comparatively vulnerable and dependent on their colleges for a safe environment,” she wrote. “Colleges have a superior ability to provide that safety with respect to activities they sponsor or facilities they control.”
Corrigan said that duty, however, did not extend to student behavior off campus or while involved in social activities unrelated to school.
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