Tragedy on Swarthmore Campus Underscores Responsibilities of Colleges and Universities
Every year, millions of students head to college or university classes for the first time. While some commute from home, many choose to live on campus. Residing in and on facilities owned and maintained by the school. As our personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, just as a grocery shopper should be able to expect that a department store will keep floors clear of hazards, students should be able to expect that their schools will be responsible and keep campuses safe.
In March 2017, tragedy struck Swarthmore College, when a sophomore died from injuries resulting from an accident which occurred while he was riding his skateboard along a prominent campus pathway. At this point, little information on the cause of the accident has been made public. Our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers understand that a fellow student found the sophomore in serious condition and called 911. The sophomore was transported to the hospital on the day of the accident, Friday, and passed away on Sunday. While there is certainly no facts sufficient to paint a picture of school liability, this horrible incident reminds us that schools always have a responsibility to their students.
The family of this student should be given the opportunity to hold the liable party responsible. If it turns out, for example, that poor walkway maintenance or lighting played a role in the skateboard accident, the school should be held responsible to the extent that its negligence caused the terrible accident.
As our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers know, a plaintiff (including one in a wrongful death case) needs to establish four elements in order to assert a case of negligence:
- First, the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff (or the deceased individual);
- Second, the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant breached that duty;
- Third, the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant’s breach of his or her duty was the cause or the accident; and
- Fourth the defendant needs to show that the accident resulted in actual harm or damage.
If, for example, it becomes apparent that the school’s walkway on which the accident occurred was poorly maintained and without adequate lighting, a successful prima facie case of negligence against the school might be asserted as follows:
- First, the plaintiff could argue, compellingly, that the defendant college owed a duty to its students to maintain safe walking spaces on the campus;
- Second, the plaintiff could show that the defendant failed to meet that duty, as evidenced by the fact that the walkway contained misplaced, jagged stones and bricks and that a number of light posts had burned out;
- Third, the plaintiff would attempt to show that the skateboard accident was caused by the poorly maintained (and dark) walkway (maybe that the skateboard hit a lifted rock, not seen to the rider, and slid dangerously off the pathway);
- Fourth, the plaintiffs would have no difficulty showing that damage resulted from the incident: a young student lost his life.
As our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers understand, most people who live on and frequent college and university campuses are legal adults, 18 years of age or older. Thus, almost all college and university students are old enough to vote and buy cigarettes, and many of them are old enough to purchase alcohol. Because they university students are far older and more responsible than elementary school students, they understandable assume more of a responsibility over their own wellbeing than do elementary school students. Nevertheless, schools undeniably have a duty to the students who pay to consume the schools’ goods and services.