Public Law

Public Law Journal: Fall 2016, Vol. 39, No. 4

The Anomalous Result: California Higher Education Student-on-Student Violence

By Michaela Goldstein*


On October 9, 2009, Katherine Rosen, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, suffered severe injuries after being attacked by another student during a chemistry laboratory.1 The California Appellate Court held that although the attack may have been foreseeable, colleges and universities are under no duty to protect their students from student violence that was foreseeable due to a threat being carried out.2

California universities and colleges are insulated by an inconsistent no-duty rule. Simply put, the California courts impose a duty, and therefore impose liability, if an attack on a student occurs due to a dangerous physical condition on the property,3 but not if a student threatens another student and carries out that threat.4 For example, if an assailant hides in a foreseeably dangerous staircase, behind a hedge, and attacks a student, the college is under a duty to have acted reasonably in preventing the attack.5 However, if a student informs university personnel of their intent to attack another student in chemistry laboratory, and then carries out the foreseeable attack, the university is under no duty to have acted reasonably in protecting the student.6 This anomalous distinction is unsupported by any reasonable explanation.

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