In general, colleges and universities have the duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their students. Whether or not a specific institution of higher learning can be held legally responsible for the murder of one of its students, however, depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the murder and the laws of the state in which the institution is located. A wrongful death lawyer can help with legal matters concerning a student’s murder in a college.
If the unthinkable happened and your student was murdered, you have the best chances of winning a wrongful death suit against the university or college if one or more of the following circumstances existed:
- The school had an inadequate security force.
- The security officers lacked proper training.
- The school failed to install a sufficient number of panic call boxes and/or adequate lighting in parking lots and along pathways.
- The security force, and the school itself, failed to adequately follow-up on student reports of “gateway” activities such as verbal threats of violence, threatening text messages, stalking, assault, etc.
- The school failed to speak with the student or other person alleged to be the perpetrator of the threatening behavior.
- The school failed to keep an adequate eye on students who they knew had a history of violence, one or more violence-related criminal convictions or a mental illness such as schizophrenia.
- The school failed to adhere to the requirements of the Clery Act.
The Clery Act
The Clery Act is a federal law passed in 1990 that applies to all colleges and universities that receive federal funding. Named after Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who, in 1986, was raped and murdered in her campus residence hall, the purpose of the Act is to protect students through transparency regarding campus crime. To that end, the Act requires colleges and universities to do the following:
- Report all allegations of criminal activity to a designated campus official.
- Provide a tally of these allegations to the Department of Education each year.
- Provide an annual security report to students and employees each October that includes campus crime statistics for the previous three years.
- Keep thorough campus crime records and show them openly.
- Offer help to students in reporting alleged criminal activity to local police.
In 2018, the California Supreme Court held in The Regents of the University of California v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County that California’s public colleges and universities owe their students a duty of care to protect them from foreseeable violence by other students. The case arose out of the brutal multiple stabbing of UCLA pre-med student Katherine Rosen by a mentally ill student who attacked her in a chemistry lab full of students. Although Ms. Rosen ultimately recovered from her grievous injuries, wrongful death lawyers see this decision as a precedent that other states will follow when confronting the campus violence in their own jurisdictions.