For decades, the attorneys at Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C. [HBMH Law] have been representing victims of the operations of colleges and universities. These Institutions of Higher Education [IHEs] are in many cases massive corporations with operations extending well beyond what some view and their core educational mission. They own vast parcels of land on which they build large and complex structures to provide facilities to young adults. These include academic buildings, including science and engineering buildings, sports and recreation facilities and residence halls. With these operations, and the money generated from them, comes a commensurate responsibility to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances for the safety of their students.
There can be little dispute about the fact that many college and university students are under 25 years of age. While, as a society, U.S. jurisdictions typically set the age of adulthood at 18 years old, modern brain science has confirmed what the auto-rental industry has long known. Major brain development ends around age 25, well after the age of “adulthood.” Our IHEs concentrate these still-developing, young adults in environments that are fraught with risks that are in many ways unique to colleges and universities due to their mission of serving this concentrated population. These students “neurocircuitry remains structurally and functionally vulnerable to impulsive sex, food, and sleep habits” and are “highly vulnerable to driving under the influence of alcohol and social maladjustments due to an immature limbic system and prefrontal cortex.” As noted by the authors of Maturation of the adolescent brain “[a]dolescents may become involved with offensive crimes, irresponsible behavior, unprotected sex, juvenile courts, or even prison. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the major cause of death among the teenage population is due to injury and violence related to sex and substance abuse.”
The recent case of Doe v. Boston University, raises these issues in the context of the sexual assault of a young female student in her dorm room. As set forth in that case, during the Head of the Charles weekend in 2015, two unescorted MIT students entered 11 unlocked rooms in Boston University’s Student Village 2 dormitory, before they encountered Jane Doe, who was asleep in her bed. One the intruders sexually assaulted Doe. He reportedly pled guilty and was sentenced to five years of probation.
Doe’s liability case against Boston University sounded in negligence and raised premises liability issues about inadequate security, a failure to enforce policies intended to ensure student safety and a decision to equip dorm room doors with locks that could be disabled by students for the sake of convenience at the expense of safety. Predictably, BU asked a Superior Court judge to throw the case out before a jury had its say. Associate Superior Court Justice Rosemary Connolly was having none of that, ruling that BU owed the Plaintiff a duty of care beyond that of an ordinary landlord, who would, of course, have a duty of reasonable care for the safety of its tenants.
While HBMH Law was not involved in the Doe litigation, the firm has long fought such cases on behalf of injured victims and, in recognition of that experience, was asked to address some of the issues involved for the media. Attorney Jeffrey Beeler, of HBMH Law, was asked to comment in the Boston Globe. Attorney Beeler was also a guest on 1A, from National Public Radio, where he addressed related issues on the live broadcast.
HBMH Law has been handling such cases against colleges and universities for decades, including: automobile liability claims, claims arising out of the intersection of underage alcohol use and sexual assault, premises liability/negligent security claims and cutting-edge wrongful death claims, including those arising out of student suicides.
The lawyers at HBMHLaw have extensive experience in cases involving injuries caused by college and university negligence. If a loved one has been hurt or killed due to the negligence of a college or university, please call for a free consultation