A college freshman was walking along a dark road with no sidewalk after row team crew practice when she was struck by a habitual drunk driver, suffering severe brain injuries fromm which she will likely never recover. She is enduring multiple and ongoing surgeries and therapies, and her parents are listed as her guardians.
Her family sued the school, arguing the reason she and her teammates were walking along that dangerous road that night was because team supervisors had blocked the boathouse parking lot. Students were in turn forced to park up the road, even the school administrators were aware there was no sidewalk and that it was dangerous. In fact, a pedestrian had just been struck and killed in that very same location three months before this incident. The school mislead students about the safety of that walk, the lawsuit alleged.
However, in a recent decision by a trial court judge, the school did not owe a duty to ensure students were safe on public highways while walking to private vehicles at an off-campus facility. The judge took note of the fact the college maybe could have offered team members reflective clothing or lighting devices to make sure they were safe. However, the school didn’t have a legal duty to take that action.
The judge further reasoned that to hold a university liable for injuries to students at things like off-campus internships, study abroad programs or while coming or going from school would be cost-prohibitive to the education system.
The girl’s parents, according to a recent news report of the case, plan to appeal. And the fact is, schools have been held liable in just those instances the judge mentioned. For example, a student won $41 million from a school district after being bitten by a tick while on a study abroad program in rural China. And schools are routinely held liable for injuries resulting crashes that occur when students are being transported to and from classes on buses – including campus bus lines.
The key is here is whether the school had a duty in this case to protect the students in this situation from foreseeable harm. Our pedestrian accident lawyers will be interested to see how this case plays out in the appeals process.
The driver in the case was sentenced to 4-to-7 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault by a vehicle and driving with a suspended drivers’ license.
According to court records, the teammates had been walking single-file down the road when the driver came barreling down the road. The impact of the collision propelled the young woman 20 feet in the air, and left her with catastrophic injuries. The driver, a habitual offender driving on a suspended license due to a prior drunk driving charge, fled the scene. It was only after police pieced together surveillance footage they were able to identify and locate the suspect.
A news article published shortly after the lawsuit was first filed last year wondered why the driver was not named as a defendant in the case. Although this was never expressly answered by plaintiff attorneys, the most likely answer is because it wasn’t worth the time. Somebody who is driving without a license has no valid insurance. That means the family would have to pursue action against the defendant personally. Chances are, especially as he faced a substantial prison term, his assets would not have come close to covering the damages they and their daughter have suffered.
Had the case happened in Florida, it may have been worthwhile to explore a dram shop liability case, which holds licensed alcohol establishments liable for damages caused by service of alcohol to minors or someone who is habitually addicted to drinking.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Lafayette College not liable for student brain injury after accident, Sept. 15, 2015, By Rudy Miller, Lehigh Valley Live
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DUI Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed After Triathlete Killed by Impaired Driver, Sept. 8, 2015, Fort Myers Pedestrian Accident Lawyer