Massachusetts Court Discusses a College’s Liability for Criminal Acts of Third Parties

When people decided to attend college, they generally assume that whatever school they attend will provide a safe environment. Thus, in some instances in which a person suffers injuries while attending a university, the school will be deemed accountable. Liability will not be imposed in all instances, however, but only when the harm suffered is foreseeable, as discussed in a recent Massachusetts case. If you suffered harm due to the negligence of another party, you may be able to recover compensation and should consult a knowledgeable Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your potential claims.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Harm

It is reported that the plaintiff, who was a freshman at the defendant university, attended a party with a male freshman that lived in her dorm. The party was hosted by a resident assistant from another dorm. While at the party, the plaintiff became extremely intoxicated and vomited several times. The male freshman offered to walk the plaintiff home, and she accepted. They ultimately ended up in the male’s room where they engaged in sexual intercourse. The plaintiff vomited while in the male’s room.

Allegedly, the following day she reported that she would not have engaged in sexual activity with the male if she had been sober. The male was eventually charged with sexual assault. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against numerous parties, including the defendant university. Specifically, among other things, the plaintiff alleged the defendant was negligent for failing to protect her from the assault. The defendant moved to have the plaintiff’s claims dismissed via summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Grounds for Imposing Liability on a College for Harm Suffered by a Student

Under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff alleging negligence must prove that the defendant owed a duty under the law to the plaintiff, the defendant committed a breach of the duty, the plaintiff sustained harm, and there was a causal connection between the breach and the plaintiff’s alleged harm. Whether a duty exists is a question of law. The Massachusetts courts have consistently ruled, however, that a party does not owe a duty to another person to prevent harm or protect the person from conditions the party did not create.

Usually, this rule regarding the absence of duty extends to criminal acts of third parties. There are exceptions, however, in cases in which a special relationship exists between the parties and where the criminal acts are foreseeable. In the subject case, while the appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that a special relationship existed between her and the defendant, it ultimately found that the defendant was not liable because the harm suffered by the plaintiff was not foreseeable. As such, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Trusted Massachusetts Attorney

If you were hurt while attending college, you might be owed damages from your college or another party and should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The trusted Massachusetts personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are well-versed in what it takes to prove liability for negligence, and if you engage our services, we will diligently pursue the best result possible under the facts surrounding your injury. We can be contacted through our form online or at 508-822-6600 to set up a consultation.