Sunday, November 3, 2019

Recent developments on whether colleges and universities have a duty to protect students from harm -- UPDATED


Last year I published an article on whether colleges or universities have a duty to protect students from harm (available here).  In it I discussed the then most recent cases on the subject.  One involved a claim against a university based on an attack by one student on another.  The other case involved a student who committed suicide.  In both cases, the courts found that the institution owed a limited duty of care to protect the students, which was a hint of the beginning of a new trend on the issue.

I am writing about this today because, sadly, there are two recent stories that combine both types of cases.

The first story involves the the death of a 24-year-old Ph.D. student of Chinese and Indian heritage at Utah State University.  According to a complaint filed recently, she ended her life after eight months of racist bullying by classmates.  The complaint names as defendants Utah State University, the head of the psychology department, and some students and professors, and it alleges negligence, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The claim against the University and its employees is based on the allegation that the decedent  complained about the alleged bullying to professors and a department chairperson but that the University took no action.

This claim is similar to the one filed in the case I discussed in my article so it will be interesting to see if the courts continue the trend to recognize, and impose, more of a duty to protect.  The one significant difference between the two cases however is that Utah State University is a state actor and, therefore, may be protected by immunity under a state "torts claims act" type statute.

You can read more about the case here.

A second related item involves  a Missouri college student who allegedly was “fascinated” with death and gave five other students advice on how to commit suicide. The student is now being sued by parents of two of the students who killed themselves, along with the University the students attended and the Fraternity they belonged to.  However, from the news account it is not too clear how strong the connection between the conduct of the student and the alleged conduct of the university really is.

You can read more about this case here.

For my posts on cases involving suicide, including some cases involving claims against colleges and universities, or against students for hazing, go here and scroll down.

UPDATE 11/3/19:  CBS has an article on the case here.

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