California Supreme Court Finds Universities & Colleges Have Duty To Protect Students On Campus

Posted on

Panish Shea & Boyle LLP partner Brian Panish addressed the media at a press conference on Thursday following an opinion issued by the California Supreme Court determining that public universities and colleges in the Golden State owe a duty of care to their students to protect from foreseeable acts of violence by fellow students. The 7-0 decision issued in The Regents of the University of California v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County reversed a decision by the Second District Court of Appeal which sided with UCLA and dismissed a lawsuit against the University of California Regents filed by Plaintiff Katherine Rosen, a UCLA pre-med student who had been slashed across the throat and brutally stabbed multiple times by a mentally ill student while working in a chemistry lab on campus.

Brian Panish, Deborah Chang and Patrick Gunning of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP represent Ms. Rosen before the California Supreme Court, on appeal and throughout eight years of litigation. She was as also represented by attorney Alan Charles Dell’Ario on appeal.

“To this day, I still struggle to understand how I was viciously attacked amidst a room full of my classmates and TA in the middle of the day while working on an experiment in Young Hall at UCLA,” Katherine Rosen said in a statement. “I am thrilled and relieved by the justices’ decision to overturn this ruling and I am hopeful it will provide the impetus for colleges throughout the country to mobilize their resources to develop and implement real, effective strategies to protect their students.”

Prior to Ms. Rosen’s 2009 attack, different departments and personnel at UCLA had documented numerous red flags about her assailant Damon Thompson relating to erratic, violent behavior as a result of schizophrenia. He’d made numerous threats against students, including Ms. Rosen, and despite these multiple red flags, UCLA failed to perform any type of threat assessment pursuant to its own policies and procedures. In 2010, Ms. Rosen filed a negligence action against the Regents of the University of California and several UCLA employees, alleging that defendants had breached their duty of care by failing to adopt reasonable measures that would have protected her from  Thompson’s foreseeable violent conduct. The Defendants brought a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court in 2014. On appeal, two of the three justices concluded in October 2015 that a public university has no general duty to protect its students from the criminal acts of other students. Attorneys for Plaintiff immediately petitioned the California Supreme Court for review of the Court of Appeal’s decision and their request was granted on January 20, 2016.

“Today’s decision by the California Supreme Court not only begins to bring justice to Katherine Rosen but forces universities and colleges to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of their students,” Brian Panish said. “The violent and brutal actions of Ms. Rosen’s attacker were foreseeable and this decision reinforces what we believed all along: UCLA and colleges throughout the state have a duty to protect their students from known risks while on campus.”

To read the California Supreme Court opinion in its entirety, click here.

Click here to watch the KABC news report

Click here to read the Los Angeles Times

Click here to read The Recorder

Click here to read SFGate

Click here to read the US News report

Click here to read Miami Herald report