North Carolina Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Premises Liability Action Involving Injured University Student

Under North Carolina law, property owners have a duty to ensure that some classes of visitors to their properties are safe. This can include a duty to prevent or warn against dangers that may be caused by third parties engaging in criminal activity. There are many issues that come in a premises liability case involving criminal acts from a third party such as whether it was foreseeable that a criminal act would happen on the property in the manner that it happened. Jason Burton is an experienced Raleigh premises liability attorney who believes that injury accident victims deserve knowledgeable and attentive legal representation.

Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeal issued a ruling in a case involving a student at a university campus who was the target of a prank committed by other students who lived in his dormitory. The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that the other students would set a cup of water above his door so that when he would open it the water would spill on him. The plaintiff decided to speak with the students about the prank and the conversation resulted in physical violence. As a result of the fight, five of the students who were involved received suspensions. The university assigned the plaintiff and his roommate to another dormitory building. After some time, the plaintiff decided to leave the university and to attend school at another campus.

The complaint that the plaintiff filed named the university as a defendant contending that the university was responsible for the emotional distress that the plaintiff suffered. The plaintiff sought punitive damages in the complaint, which is a category of damages intended to punish defendants for, particularly egregious conduct. In response to the complaint, the defendant moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court.

The plaintiff filed an appeal stating that the university did owe him a duty of care and that it failed to meet this duty. The reviewing court articulated the rule for third-party crimes in premises liability actions noting that a defendant is not usually held liable for a third party’s intentional criminal activity but that a university can be held responsible if a criminal assault happens involving its students in certain limited scenarios. The foreseeability of the criminal assault determines whether the university should be held liable for the damages that result.

In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that 41% of the calls that the campus police received involved a complaint from the dormitory where the plaintiff was living. This also included 11 reports in two months prior to the violent altercation involving the plaintiff. Despite this evidence, the reviewing court stated that evidence of criminal activity happening before the incident in question is usually the most important factor to consider in assessing whether a school had a duty to prevent violence from a third party. Here, however, only three of the reports involved assaults. The plaintiff had not made any other reports of violent activity and could not show that the other students had a history of violent conduct or criminal activity. As a result, the appellate court upheld the dismissal of the complaint.

North Carolina premises liability law is highly complicated and the result depends on the unique facts and circumstances of each case.  If you suffered physical harm while on someone else’s property, you should speak to an attorney to learn about whether you are entitled to compensation. Attorney Jason M. Burton proudly provides North Carolina residents with legal representation in premises liability actions and has previously been successful in cases against property owners, landlords, store operators, hotels, and others. It is critical to know whether you are being treated fairly and receiving the full amount of compensation that you deserve. Call now at 1-833-623-0042 or contact him online to get started.