In a negligence action, a trial court and the court on appeal first must determine whether a duty exists. Without a duty, there can be no breach to support a plaintiff's claim. An actor has no duty to control the conduct of a third person to prevent that person from causing harm to others unless a "special relationship" exists between the actor and the third party or the actor and the injured party.
Plaintiff was raped by a fellow male student in a co-ed university residence hall one night when the student was in the common area tending to her laundry. The rapist was prosecuted criminally and was sued civilly by the student. Plaintiff also filed and action against the university for its negligence on the theory that it failed to protect her while the university was under a duty to protect her given the landlord-tenant relationship. The district court granted summary judgment for the university, and the plaintiff appealed.
Whether the defendant's decision to provide housing to its students creates a duty to protect its students?
Yes, the defendant's decision to provide housing to its students creates a duty to protect its students.
On appeal, the court reversed and found that because the defendant made the decision to provide housing for students over the private landlords available in the area, it undertook an accompanying duty to protect its tenants. Furthermore, the decision to house the students did not provide the university with immunity from the plaintiff's action.