District Owed Duty Of Care To Protect Student Stabbed By Third Party While On Campus

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters, Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education, Public Education
DATE: Aug 30, 2022

Plaintiff C. Achay was a tenth-grade student and member of the track team at the Huntington Beach Union High School District.  After her track practice ended early one day, Achay and her friend walked to a nearby Starbucks and returned to campus approximately 45 minutes later to grab books from her school locker.  While the students were walking back to campus, they encountered a former student who they thought was “suspicious” and “kind of weird.”  While Achay was walking from the school’s locker room to the school parking lot, the former student stabbed her and she suffered serious injuries.

Achay sued the Huntington Beach Union High School District, alleging that the District breached its duty to provide proper security on campus.  The District filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing it owed Achay no duty of care at the time of the stabbing, and even if it did owe her a duty, there was no basis for a reasonable juror “to find a causal connection between the District’s alleged negligence and the injury, which was unpredictable.”  The trial court granted the District’s summary judgment motion, finding that the District did not owe Achay a duty of care because at the time of the stabbing, she was no longer on campus during school hours during a school-related activity.  Achay appealed.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court.  The court held that the District owed Achay a duty of care because at the time of the stabbing, Achay was on campus to retrieve her books from an open locker room after her track practice, and another sports team was still practicing nearby.  The fact that the student left campus and later returned had no effect on whether the District owed her a duty because she was stabbed on school grounds during ongoing after-school sports activities.  The court stated that Achay’s brief departure from school is a “red herring,” and there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the District used reasonable security measures to protect Achay from an arguably preventable injury.  The court further held that a factfinder could conclude that had campus supervisors been present, the tenth grader would have sought their protection.

Achay v. Huntington Beach Union High School District (2022) 80 Cal.App.5th 528.

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