A recent California Supreme Court decision could strengthen an alumna’s lawsuit against the University of California Board of Regents over an on-campus stabbing at UCLA, an expert said.
Katherine Rosen was stabbed multiple times by another student in a classroom in 2009, according to court documents. Damon Thompson, who stabbed Rosen, had been treated by the university for symptoms of schizophrenia and paranoia prior to the attack. In 2015, a state appeals court ruled on Rosen’s lawsuit that UCLA was not obligated to protect Rosen.
The California Supreme Court decided March 22 the case could be reopened because it found the university did have responsibility for students’ safety. The court cited an example in which the UC adjusted its policies after violent incidents on its campuses.
Rosen hopes her lawsuit will incentivize universities to strengthen and more closely adhere to their safety policies, said Brian Panish, Rosen’s attorney.
Jim Newton, a lecturer of public policy at UCLA, said he thinks this decision is significant because it finds that the lower court must reinterpret the case and places a higher burden of responsibility on the university.
“(The decision) clearly creates a standard for the lower court to now have to apply,” Newton said.
However, Newton said he thinks the court’s decision does not mean the previous ruling in favor of the university will be reversed.
“That doesn’t mean it is impossible (for the university to win),” he said. “This just means that now everybody has a clearer understanding of what the Supreme Court expects in terms of the standards that the plaintiff will have to meet.”
The UC is concerned the recent decision does not explain how broad a school’s responsibility to protect students’ safety is, said Margaret Wu, UC deputy general counsel for litigation and capital strategies.
“We do have concern about how the lower court is going to interpret this language from the Supreme Court,” Wu said. “How far does this duty actually extend?”
Panish said the court ruling was significant because universities will be held responsible for students’ safety, and this responsibility could extend to off-campus activities. He added the ruling sends a message to all universities that they will now have an obligation to protect their students from violent situations.
“The court recognized that public universities have a duty to provide a safe environment for the students in areas where the curriculum is being administered, which means basically in the classroom, or near the classroom in a school environment,” he said. “It was left open whether it applies to off-campus activities.”
UC interim managing counsel Norman Hamill added the university plans to continue to fight this case and has not offered any settlements.
“The current plan here is to go back to the court of appeals and follow the proceedings that happen there,” he said. “We continue to defend the conduct of our employees.”
Panish added Rosen is seeking monetary damages in the case.
“We fully expect (the damages) to be millions of dollars,” Panish said.