In ruling for victim in UCLA attack, California Supreme Court says universities should protect students

Katherine Rosen, a pre-med student in her junior year at UCLA, was in chemistry lab when she knelt to put something in her desk drawer. A classmate came up behind her and stabbed her in her neck and chest.

She survived the life-threatening injuries, returned to school and sued UCLA for negligence, charging the campus was aware of her classmate's "dangerous propensities" and failed to warn and protect her.

On Thursday, nearly nine years after the stabbing, the California Supreme Court overturneda lower court ruling and decided Rosen's lawsuit could go forward.

Public colleges, the court said, have a duty to protect students from foreseeable violence in classrooms and other places where they have "curricular" activities.

The unanimous decision, among the first of its kind in the nation, put California's colleges on notice that they may be held responsible if they know a student is dangerous and fail to take steps to control him and protect others.

Citing the 2007 Virginia Tech killings, the state high court said public colleges and universities in California "have a special relationship with their students and a duty to protect them from foreseeable violence."

"Students are comparatively vulnerable and dependent on their colleges for a safe environment," Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote for the court.

UCLA officials knew Damon Thompson, Rosen's assailant, suffered from paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations, had been barred from campus housing and had told a teaching assistant that he believed Rosen was demeaning him, according to court records.

"Although a criminal act is always shocking to some degree," Corrigan wrote, "it is not completely unpredictable if a defendant is aware of the risk."

The court noted that UCLA had marketed itself as "one of the safest campuses in the country" and developed "sophisticated strategies for identifying and defusing potential threats to student safety."

In fact, a team of professionals responsible for student safety at UCLA already was "closely monitoring" Thompson in the days before the stabbing, the court said.

Learn more at LA Times

Kate McCartyeducation, C.A.