Yes, it is possible for state colleges and universities to be sued for injuries that happen on their premises. However, the liability of these institutions may be limited due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects government entities from certain types of lawsuits.
Despite this, there are exceptions to sovereign immunity, and public colleges and universities can be held liable for injuries under specific circumstances.
When Can a State College or University Be Held Liable for a Personal Injury Claim?
Regarding the liability of a public college, a state college or university may be held liable for a personal injury claim when:
- The injury is a result of negligence on the part of the institution or its employees, such as poor maintenance of facilities, inadequate security measures, or failure to address known hazards.
- Example: A student slips and falls on a wet floor in a university building, sustaining a severe injury. It is discovered that a janitor had recently mopped the floor but failed to put up any warning signs. In this case, the university may be held liable for the janitor’s negligence in failing to provide adequate warning of the hazardous condition.
- Sovereign immunity has been waived, either by state law or through the specific conduct of the institution, allowing for claims against the entity.
- Example: A state has enacted legislation that waives sovereign immunity for personal injury claims resulting from the negligent operation or maintenance of state-owned property. In this state, a student is injured after tripping over a broken sidewalk on campus that had been reported to the university but was not repaired. The waiver of sovereign immunity in this state would allow the injured student to bring a claim against the university for the injury resulting from the dangerous condition.
- The injury arises from a dangerous condition on the property, and the institution had notice of the condition but failed to take appropriate action to remedy it.
- Example: A student is assaulted in a poorly lit parking lot on campus, despite numerous complaints from students and staff about the lack of adequate lighting in the area. The university had been aware of the issue but failed to take action to improve the lighting. In this case, the university may be held liable for the injury resulting from the dangerous condition on the property, as they had notice of the issue but did not take appropriate measures to address it.
What Are the Remedies for State College or University Injuries?
In personal injury lawsuits, the remedies typically include compensatory damages, which are designed to make the injured party whole by covering medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses incurred as a result of the injury. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future.
For injuries that occur on campus, remedies may include:
Compensation for Medical Expenses, Both Past and Future, Associated with the Injury
Example: A student falls down a poorly maintained staircase on campus and suffers a broken leg, requiring surgery and ongoing physical therapy. The student’s remedy may include compensation for the cost of the surgery, physical therapy, and any future medical expenses associated with the injury.
Lost Wages or Loss of Earning Capacity Resulting from the Injury
Example: An employee of a university sustains a severe back injury due to inadequate safety measures during a campus event. As a result, the employee is unable to work for an extended period and may never be able to return to their previous occupation. The employee’s remedy may include compensation for lost wages during their recovery period and potential loss of future earning capacity if they are unable to resume their prior occupation.
Pain and Suffering, Emotional Distress, and Other Non-Economic Damages
Example: A student is injured in a lab accident due to the university’s failure to provide proper safety equipment and training. In addition to physical injuries, the student experiences significant emotional distress, anxiety, and a decrease in their quality of life. The student’s remedy may include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other non-economic damages related to the impact of the injury on their daily life.
Potential defenses for negligence or fault may include contributory or comparative negligence (where the injured party’s own negligence contributed to the injury), assumption of risk, or that the dangerous condition was open and obvious.
In addition to contributory or comparative negligence, assumption of risk, and the open and obvious condition, other potential defenses for negligence or fault in personal injury cases may include:
Statute of Limitations
Each state has a specific time limit, known as the statute of limitations, within which a personal injury claim must be filed. If the injured party fails to file their claim within the designated time period, the defendant can use this as a defense to dismiss the lawsuit.
Example: A student is injured in a slip and fall accident on campus but waits three years to file a lawsuit, even though the statute of limitations in their state is two years. In this case, the university could use the expired statute of limitations as a defense to avoid liability.
In certain situations, a defendant may be immune from liability due to their specific role or relationship with the injured party. For example, some states provide immunity for volunteers or employees of non-profit organizations acting within the scope of their duties.
Example: A student is injured while participating in a campus volunteer program, and the volunteer coordinator is alleged to have been negligent in their supervision. If the state provides immunity for volunteers in such situations, the coordinator may be able to use this defense to avoid liability.
No Duty of Care
A defendant can argue that they did not owe a duty of care to the injured party, meaning they were not legally responsible for preventing the harm that occurred. If the court agrees, the defendant may avoid liability for the injury.
Example: A student is injured while trespassing in a restricted area of the university. The university could argue that they did not owe a duty of care to the student because they were not allowed to be in that area, and therefore, they are not liable for the injury.
Intervening or Superseding Cause
A defendant may assert that an unforeseeable intervening or superseding event was the actual cause of the injury rather than their own negligence. If successful, this defense can absolve the defendant of liability.
Example: A student is injured on campus when a tree branch falls on them during a severe storm. The university had properly maintained the trees, and the branch falling was a result of the unexpected storm. In this case, the university could argue that the storm, an intervening cause, was the actual cause of the injury, not their negligence.
Do I Need An Attorney If I Have Been Injured at a State College or University?
If you have been injured at a state college or university, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Navigating the complexities of sovereign immunity and the specific requirements of bringing a claim against a government entity can be challenging. An attorney can help you understand your rights, evaluate the merits of your claim, and guide you through the legal process.
To find a qualified personal injury lawyer in your area, use LegalMatch, which can connect you with attorneys who have experience handling cases similar to yours.