North Carolina Appellate Court Dismisses Negligence Action Against University in Student Assault Based on Lack of Foreseeability

In certain situations, a property owner has a duty to protect you from dangers that may be caused by third-parties, such as people committing criminal acts. This type of liability can be tricky, especially when it is not clear whether the property owner owed you a duty to protect you or whether the harm that you received was foreseeable. At Maurer Law, our seasoned team of Charlotte personal injury lawyers has handled a number of premises liability cases and we are ready to assist you in determining whether you are owed compensation for your injuries.

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a student at a university who was the victim of a prank in the dormitory. A group of students placed a cup of water above the plaintiff’s door so that it would spill on the plaintiff when he opened the door. The plaintiff confronted the group of students about the prank and the interaction became violent. Five students were suspended as a result of the altercation and the plaintiff along with his roommate were moved to another dorm. Eventually, the plaintiff withdrew from the university and enrolled elsewhere.

The plaintiff later filed a lawsuit against the university and its Board of Trustees, alleging that the university negligently caused the plaintiff to experience emotional distress and sought punitive damages for its alleged willful and wanton disregard for the plaintiff’s rights. The university moved for summary judgment and the lower court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed on the basis that he had established that the university owed him a duty of care and failed to act according to that duty, and that he suffered damages as a direct and foreseeable result of that failure.

On appeal, the court began by stating the general rule that defendants are not typically held liable for the intentional criminal acts of third parties, but that a college can be held liable for a criminal assault that one of its students commits against another student in certain situations. Whether the university is required to prevent the harm is determined by the foreseeability of the criminal assault.

Turning to the record, the plaintiff offered evidence that 41% of the calls to the campus police department involved plaintiff’s dormitory, with 11 incidents occurring during the two months before the plaintiff was assaulted. The appellate court noted that evidence of prior criminal activity is typically the most compelling factor in establishing that the campus had a duty to protect a student, but that here the evidence fell short of establishing that the campus breached a legal duty to safeguard the plaintiff from attacks by other students. Of the 11 incidents, only three were assault-related, for example, making the remainder inapplicable. Also, the plaintiff had not reported any prior acts of violence or threats of violence, and the students involved did not have a prior history of criminal activity.

If you were injured on another person’s property as the result of criminal activity, you may be entitled to compensation from the property owner who failed to protect you. At Maurer Law, we understand how overwhelming and stressful this situation can be and how confusing the legal system can seem at times. We provide a free consultation to discuss your situation and whether you have a viable claim for compensation from a negligent person or organization. Call us today at 1-844-817-8058 or contact us online.