Surviving college is a rite of passage for many young adults. Perhaps your child is making this all-important transition into adulthood this fall at Yale, the University of New Haven, Quinnipiac University or any of Connecticut's other public and private institutions of higher learning.
However, the risks and dangers of college campuses have been well-documented, especially for new freshman. These dangers often beg the question: Are colleges or universities responsible for otherwise preventable accidents and injuries?
The sobering statistics on college accidents
Most injuries that occur on college campuses are caused by binge drinking and other alcohol or drug use – despite "dry campus" policies and other rules governing underage consumption. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
- 1,825 college students between 18 and 24 die in alcohol-related accidents or incidents, especially from alcohol poisoning
- Almost 600,000 are unintentionally injured in alcohol-related incidents
- About 696,000 students are assaulted by drunk peers
- 97,000 students experience alcohol-related date rape or sexual assault
- 25 percent of college students who drink miss classes, fall behind on their studies and receive lower grades overall
As these statistics demonstrate, even a school's best efforts cannot prevent some of the more negative aspects of college life from occurring.
Part of the problem is that many of these accidents occur off campus or are the result of non-university sanctioned activities. Universities may be held accountable for injuries arising directly from:
- Unsafe premises like crumbling walkways or pavement, broken guardrails or handrails, and other unmarked hazards in campus buildings or on the grounds
- Broken furniture or equipment in campus buildings or dorms
- Negligent security, like bad locks or faulty alarm systems
- Campus transportation services, such as lack of seat belts or reckless driving by a campus employee
- Insufficient supervision during campus-sanctioned activities, which may include fraternity or sorority pledges if the administration is actively involved in maintaining and monitoring the campus Greek system
Proving that a college or university knew or should have known about these hazards gets complicated, especially if the incident occurred off campus.
It may also depend on whether the university is a public or private institution. In general, students and their families may sue a private university for alleged negligence like any other type of business. However, suing a state school like the University of Connecticut could prove difficult, since there are specific procedures when it comes to filing a lawsuit against a government agency.
What can students (and their parents) do?
Most colleges and universities have strict policies when it comes to alcohol use, hazing and other so-called "rites of passage" for their students. Most also possess robust campus security and public safety departments, which may or may not work with local law enforcement agencies (Yale, for example, has a standing police department that coordinates its efforts with the New Haven Police Department). In the era of #MeToo, some have even implemented Title IX offices and women's centers to battle the threat of sexual assault on college campuses.
Despite these efforts, however, accidents and injuries are still prevalent on college campuses nationwide. While winning an injury claim against a college or university is difficult, it's not impossible. Colleges and universities should be held to the same standards as other commercial enterprises when it comes to personal injury.