In 2015, a California appeals court ruled that California public colleges do not have a legal obligation to protect their students in the same way that public elementary and secondary schools do. However, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that public colleges and universities do have a duty to protect their students from potential violence in “school sponsored activities.” The ruling overturns a lower court decision and allows a former University of California, Los Angeles student to proceed with a lawsuit against her alma mater, stemming from when she was stabbed with a kitchen knife by a classmate while in chemistry class. UCLA maintained it could not have been expected to know what her assailant and classmate, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, would do that day. But the Supreme Court held that a “special relationship” exists between a college and its students while they are on campus in educational settings and that institutions must take steps to ensure a safe environment. The court did note that this obligation does not extend to off-campus settings.
California is the first state to determine that public colleges have a duty to warn and shield their students from potential violent acts. Experts say the ruling could have nationwide implications. Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, remarked, “This is a step that no one has been willing to take before…This is just the beginning of a national debate over the future of college safety.”
For further information, see: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S230568.pdf