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Tort/Negligence – Dormitory Assault – Foreseeability – Proximate Cause

Tort/Negligence – Dormitory Assault – Foreseeability – Proximate Cause

Roberts v. Mars Hill University (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-110-17, 8 pp.) (Chris Dillon, J.) Appealed from Madison County Superior Court (J. Thomas Davis, J.) N.C. App. Unpub.

Holding: Although campus police were often called to plaintiff’s dormitory, those incidents were distinguishable from the attack on plaintiff, which occurred after plaintiff reacted to being the victim of a prank by confronting the pranksters. The confrontation escalated into a physical altercation in which plaintiff suffered serious injuries.

We affirm summary judgment for the defendant-university and its board of trustees.

Even though 41 percent of the defendant-university’s police department’s calls on campus involved plaintiff’s dormitory, including 11 incidents in the two months prior to the attack on plaintiff, plaintiff’s forecast of evidence was insufficient to show that the university breached some legal duty to safeguard plaintiff against a physical attack by other students. The 11 incidents to which plaintiff refers only included three assaults: a sexual assault, a fight between siblings, and a fight between former fraternity brothers. These incidents are distinguishable from the attack on plaintiff and do not constitute evidence of repeated incidents of criminal activity which would establish foreseeability as a matter of law.

Plaintiff did not report any prior incidents of harassment or violence between himself and the specific students involved, and the students did not have any prior history of criminal behavior or violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

Furthermore, we find that the total of 95 calls from all over campus to campus security over the course of almost six years is insufficient to raise a triable issue regarding foreseeability, based on evidence that these calls included reports of physical assaults, fire alarms, alcohol and drug violations, larcenies, and break-ins.

Assuming arguendo that plaintiff successfully established both duty and breach of that duty by the university, plaintiff nevertheless failed to show proximate cause. Plaintiff argues that the university should have placed more security guards on campus and put security cameras in the residence halls in order to deter incidents of this type. We disagree with plaintiff that the testimony of his expert regarding these particular measures is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to the element of proximate cause.

While security patrols and cameras certainly help to promote a safer environment, neither of these tools can entirely deter physical assault or criminal activity in general. There was evidence that the university did, in fact, have a security guard on call at the time of the incident who was dispatched to plaintiff’s dorm shortly after receiving a report of a noise complaint. In addition, plaintiff testified that, while the altercation began outside his room, he was immediately punched and fell into his dorm room, an area which certainly would not have been monitored by a security camera had the university installed cameras in the residence hall.



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