Student Safety and University Liability
Case Analysis U10a1
Student safety and University liability are major issues of concern for all institutions of higher education. In many instances, students and parents allege institutional liability for injuries or character defamation that result from negligent student behaviors, on and off campus. Then, there are the instances in which a party, other than a student, is at fault. Each of the cases presented below represent a variation of such instances and the extent to which the legal system rendered liability. Havlik v. Johnson & Wales Univ., 509 F.3d 25 (U.S. App, 2007) Background
In September 2004, plaintiff Christopher Havlik, a student at Johnson & Wales University (Providence, Rhode Island) engaged in a physical altercation with fellow student, Ronald Ratcliff, at the intersection of Richmond and Pine Streets. During the contentious exchange, plaintiff knocked Radcliffe to the ground causing him to strike his head against the pavement. Providence police were summoned to the scene. An investigation ensued that involved varying witness testimonies provided by associates of Havlik and Radcliffe. One associate alleged that the plaintiff brandished a knife during the attack. Radcliffe, taken to the hospital by emergency transport, was diagnosed with “a concussion and fractured skull” (Havlik v. Johnson & Wales University, 2007, p. 4). Upon completion of the investigation, police filed criminal charges against plaintiff. A statement regarding the altercation was submitted to campus security. The University performed its own investigation that concluded: (1) fraternity differences likely led to the fracas; and (2) plaintiff probably started the fight, and brandished a knife during the altercation. Further, one witness and his friend expressed fear of reprisal from Havlik and his fraternity brothers because of their cooperation in the investigation. Less than a week after the altercation, plaintiff received notification of temporary suspension from the University for failing to adhere to the rules of conduct as stated in the student code. The following infractions were named: physical altercation; weapon possession, and participating in illegal behavior. Plaintiff was notified of his right to a hearing which was scheduled for the next day. Plaintiff testified on his own behalf at the hearing. After deliberating, the board found plaintiff liable for assault upon another student and for taking part in “lawless behavior” (Havlik v. Johnson & Wales, 2007, p. 4). Plaintiff was found not liable for having a knife. The board recommended that plaintiff be expelled from the University for failing to comply with the student code of conduct as stated in the (Code) and notified plaintiff of his right to file an appeal. On the day plaintiff was suspended; a crime alert draft was evaluated and updated by Barbara Bennett, Chief House Counsel for the University. Both notifications stated that “a blow had been struck and a knife brandished” (Havlik v. Johnson & Wales, 2007, p. 4). However, the updated version revised by Bennett consisted of facts not detailed in the earlier version of the crime alert. Bennett’s report stated that: (1) members of the plaintiff’s fraternity (ZBT) were involved in the fracas; and (2) plaintiff was named as bearing sole responsibility for the incident. However, neither Bennett nor Campus Safety & Security had knowledge of the findings rendered by the board. Subsequently, plaintiff exercised his right to an appeal. Prior to filing the appeal, plaintiff and his mother met with Ronald Martel, President of University Affairs. During the meeting, Martel made disparaging remarks that accused plaintiff “of disassembling about incident” (Havlik v. Johnson & Wales, 2007, p. 5) and referred to his fraternity brothers as “thugs” (p. 5). Despite the crude remarks from Martel, plaintiff moved forward with the appeal process. Plaintiff’s letter of appeal was...
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