Massachusetts parents send their kids off to college with the hopes of great opportunities for a bright future for them in and out of the classroom. Unfortunately, college campuses are not immune to accidents that cause serious injuries, even death, such as car, bicycle, or pedestrian accidents, assaults, shootings, and more on campus.
A University of Virginia student recently shot and killed three fellow student-athletes on the football team – Devin Chandler while he was sleeping, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry – on a bus returning to campus after a field trip. Two other students were injured in the shooting.
Sadly, their futures are forever changed. In the past decade, gun violence has increased on college campuses across the country. What can be changed? And who is responsible for college injuries?
College Campus Premises Liability
Injury accidents that happen on college campuses are generally covered under premises liability, which is when property owners are held liable for any injuries sustained on their premises or property under certain circumstances.
Premises liability law goes further to explain that the property owner has a legal duty to provide a safe place for guests and to fix any problems in a timely manner or warn visitors of any hazards on the premise to prevent accidents.
If not, a legal claim can be filed by the injured to recover compensation for any damages, but detailed proof must be provided. Examples of accidents that lead to premise liability lawsuits include slips and falls from a patch of ice on campus somewhere or an unsecured handrail in a building, or injuries caused by a lack of suitable security, like from a shooting.
College Campus Personal Liability
Not requiring the same amount of proof, personal liability is when someone on a college campus is negligent by failing to use reasonable care to prevent harm to other people.
With an active shooting incident on a college campus that results in students suffering from injuries or dying from homicide, a failure to protect negligence claim may be filed against the teachers, administration, or other faculty or staff members. Parents or loved ones, however, will need to prove that their actions were severely lacking or that a lockdown plan (or any other emergency plan) was unsuccessful.
College Negligence and the Importance of Lockdown Plans
Lockdown procedures are critical for universities when there is the fear of an active shooter on campus to prevent additional shooting injuries. Otherwise, the parents of a shooting victim could sue the school.
In the case of the University of Virginia active shooting situation, more than 500 alerted students were on lockdown for 12 hours, sheltering inside laboratory closets and dorm rooms while a manhunt for the shooting suspect was in pursuit.
When a school is negligent in enacting a lockdown plan or things go wrong with the plan, liability issues come into play, and the injured victim or their loved ones could sue the college. Schools have the legal duty to protect as many students as it can from possible danger. With that said, most colleges in Massachusetts have insurance policies that would be the source of compensation for anyone injured in an accident on the premises.
Who Can be Sued After an Injury on College Campus?
After an accident caused injuries on a college campus in Massachusetts, victims (visitors of the school, staff, or students) may have several options on who to sue for compensation, including:
- The school itself because of unsafe sidewalks, academic buildings, classrooms, dorms, and other areas on the property.
- An individual person, such as someone who assaulted another student.
- More than one defendant, including a property management company.
What are Common Causes of Accidents on College Campuses?
The diversity of accidents that happen on college campuses covers a wide range of reasons to sue – even for students in a science lab, where students are exposed to accidents with chemicals and scientific equipment.
Here are the most common accidents on college campuses:
These are some of the most common types of accidents because of the layout of many campuses, which tend to be large, with roads and highways running through or around them, and students who need to walk on sidewalks along these roads and cross streets to get to classes each day. Plus, the risk is increased by many of these drivers or pedestrians who are distracted by looking down at their cell phones.
Because of that increase in pedestrian traffic on campus, most of the population spends a lot of time walking everywhere, indoors and out. Indoor surfaces may become slick with spills and water being tracked in on rainy days. The risk of slips and falls rises outdoors as weather conditions go downhill due to heavy rain, sleet, or snow. Massachusetts requires property owners or managers to keep premises safe, but the dangers of slips, trips, and falls are still there, which could cause serious scrapes, bruises, or broken bones.
Injuries Involving Alcohol
Alcohol consumption is a big issue on many college campuses, with students leaving bars or parties on campus intoxicated by car or on foot, often leading to an accident. Even though the legal drinking age in every state is 21, it is not difficult for underage students to get or consume alcohol, whether with a fake ID or drinking at fraternity or sorority social events. Unfortunately, about 1,500 college students die from alcohol-related injuries.
Hazing and Assault
While most schools have strict policies prohibiting hazing, many fraternities and sororities, as well as college athletic programs, still haze behind closed doors. Hazing rituals that force students to be intoxicated, public nudity, exposure to the elements, sleep deprivation, and more could lead to serious injuries. Even if a college student is not being inducted into a Greek organization or club, the threat of sexual assault is still widespread, with more than a quarter of undergraduate women reporting being sexually assaulted. Victims of sexual assault, burglary, or aggravated assault often suffer from extreme physical, mental, and emotional injuries.
If you or a loved one has been injured on a college campus, please Call Riccio Law at 617-404-8878 to schedule a free consultation.