Appellate Court Determines UCLA Had Duty to Protect Student with ‘Reasonable Person Standard of Care’

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Nearly 10 years after she was brutally attacked in a UCLA chemistry lab by a mentally ill classmate, Katherine Rosen will finally have her case heard by a jury following a unanimous decision by the Second District Court of Appeal determining the university and its employees have a duty to act with a reasonable person standard of care to protect students from foreseeable acts of violence during curricular activities. The unanimous decision also concluded that triable issues of fact exist as to whether UCLA breached their duty of care to Ms. Rosen resulting in her 2009 attack by Damon Thompson.

“I remain hopeful that this determination will provide the impetus for colleges and universities throughout the country to mobilize their resources to develop and implement real, effective strategies to protect their students,” said Ms. Rosen of the Appellate court’s decision.

Brian Panish, Deborah Chang and Patrick Gunning of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP have represented Ms. Rosen throughout eight years of litigation against UCLA, beginning in 2010 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court before Judge Gerald Rosenberg and all the way to the California Supreme Court where a March 2018 decision determined public universities and colleges in California owe a duty of care to their students to protect them from foreseeable acts of violence by fellow students — reversing a previous decision by the Second District Court of Appeal which sided with UCLA in concluding that the university did not have a duty to protect Ms. Rosen and dismissed her lawsuit. Attorney Alan Charles Dell’Ario also represented Ms. Rosen in her appeal, including arguing the cases before both the California Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court remanded the case to the appellate court to resolve disputed issues of material fact that the majority did not address in their original opinion, including whether there was a triable issue of fact as to whether UCLA breached its duty of care to Ms. Rosen and whether the university and its employees were statutorily immune from a lawsuit as a result.

“The Appellate court’s decision reinforces Judge Rosenberg’s original determination and what we’ve believed all along: UCLA and colleges throughout California have a duty to protect their students from known risks while on campus,” said Brian Panish. “The violent and brutal actions of Ms. Rosen’s attacker were foreseeable and reasonable care should have been taken by UCLA to ensure not only her safety, but the safety of all of its students. The university failed Ms. Rosen and we’re looking forward to holding UCLA accountable for its inaction.”

READ THE APPELLATE COURT OPINION ON REMAND FROM SUPREME COURT

Prior to Ms. Rosen’s 2009 attack, different departments and personnel at UCLA had documented numerous red flags about her assailant 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 her attacker’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 Ms. Rosen immediately petitioned the California Supreme Court for review of the Court of Appeal’s decision and the decision was reversed, holding that colleges and universities have a “duty to use reasonable care to protect their students from foreseeable acts of violence in the classroom of during curricular activities.”

A status conference has been set in Los Angeles County Superior Court for Monday, May 13, 2019.

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