Tuesday, August 20

Court rules UCLA not liable for criminal acts among students


A state appeals court concluded Wednesday public universities and community colleges are not responsible for protecting students from criminal acts by other students.

The decision is a response to a lawsuit a UCLA student filed against the University of California Board of Regents and UCLA officials in 2010, after another student attacked her with a kitchen knife.

Former UCLA student Damon Thompson admitted to stabbing UCLA alumna Katherine Rosen in a chemistry laboratory in 2009 because Rosen had allegedly insulted him. Rosen alleged she had never been in contact with Thompson.

Prior to the attack, UCLA officials treated Thompson for symptoms of schizophrenia, including auditory hallucinations and paranoia. Thompson told UCLA officials multiple times that several classmates made fun of him, and he would take matters into his own hands if officials did not act.

Though he admitted to the crime, a judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity in November 2010. About a month later, Rosen sued the university.

Rosen alleged in her complaint the university should protect its students from violent attacks by students on campus because UCLA invited her to attend the school and she pays the university tuition.

She further alleged UCLA officials who were aware of Thompson’s behavior should have taken action to warn students about Thompson and attempt to control his behavior.

UCLA responded by saying UCLA, unlike elementary and secondary schools, does not have a legal obligation to protect its students, and UCLA officials responded appropriately to Thompson’s behavior because officials could not have reasonably foreseen the incident.

The court initially sided with Rosen, alleging UCLA has a responsibility to protect its students and landowners must generally protect their invitees, which includes university students, from third-party criminal acts.

UCLA appealed the decision and called for a state appeals court to re-evaluate it because UCLA officials said they thought Rosen failed to prove UCLA has a legal responsibility to protect its students in such cases.

The appeals court found the obligation for landowners to protect their invitees did not extend to public institutions like UCLA. The court also concluded UCLA’s conduct did not increase the risk of harm to Rosen.

UCLA officials said in an email statement they believe the court’s decision accurately reflects current California law. They added student safety is a top priority, and the university offers support and resources to students.

Rosen’s attorney, Brian Panish, could not be reached for comment.

Compiled by Roberto Luna Jr., Bruin senior staff.

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  • Isaac

    I think the right answer is somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, the university has at least a basic obligation to ensure the safety of all it invites, as it does in so many other ways. But on the other hand, we all operate on the assumption that in a world of seven billion, there are always inherent risks in everything we do. We cannot expect the university or government, generally, to shield us from everything.

    In this case, the outcome is, well, just sad. Just because the man was ruled to be insane, doesn’t mean the victim can start suing other entities just for the sake of seeing what sticks. Sometimes life just sucks, sometimes there’s just no winning.