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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Back issues
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UCLA Off the Hook for Student Lab Attack

(CN) - UCLA did not have a duty to protect a student who was attacked with a knife by a classmate in a chemistry lab, a California appeals court ruled.

Katherine Rosen was severely injured when Damon Thompson attacked her in a chemistry laboratory in October 2009, according to court records. Several months earlier, UCLA had treated Thompson for paranoia, auditory hallucinations and other symptoms that indicate schizophrenia disorder.

He accepted psychological treatment after complaining to professors that other students' had made "accusations of a sexual nature" about him, invaded his privacy and made "offensive comments" to him, the ruling states.

A UCLA psychologist diagnosed Thompson with possible schizophrenia disorder in spring 2009 but concluded that he did not show signs of suicidal or homicidal ideation.

During the following school year, Thompson suddenly attacked Rosen with a kitchen knife during a chemistry lab.

"Rosen recalled kneeling down to place 'equipment in her chemistry locker when she suddenly felt someone's hands around her neck.' Rosen looked up and saw Thompson coming at her with a knife," the appeals court ruling states.

Rosen told investigators that she hadn't insulted or provoked Thompson, court records show. A teaching assistant said Thompson had identified Rosen as "one of the persons that called him stupid," according to the ruling.

Rosen sued several UCLA employees and the Regents of the University of California for negligence, claiming they owed her a duty of protection from Thompson's allegedly foreseeable violent acts.

The university moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it did not have the duty to protect adult students from the criminal conduct of third parties.

A Los Angeles County court denied the motion, ruling that the university did owe Rosen protection, based on her status as a student and business invitee.

The California Court of Appeals' Second District reversed the lower court on Wednesday, finding that "a public university has no general duty to protect its students from the criminal acts of other students," according to the ruling. Justice Laurie Zelon added that Rosen failed to prove that Nicole Green, the UCLA psychologist who treated Thompson, had a duty to warn under California law.

"At their final meeting on April 17th [2009], Thompson informed Green that that he still got angry when he heard insults or harassment, but did not intend to harm anyone," Zelon wrote for the appeals court.

Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss wrote a dissenting opinion, citing a UCLA brochure that stated, "Welcome to one of the most secure campuses in the country" to support his view that UCLA had a special relationship with its students, leading to a duty to protect them.

"I would find such a special relationship exists between a college and its enrolled students, at least when the student is in the classroom under the direct supervision of an instructor, and the school has a duty to keep its classrooms reasonably safe from foreseeable threats of violence," Perluss wrote.

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