Explore What You can do and What to Expect if you are Injured on a College Campus in New Jersey
College students are not immune to the accidents anyone else has outside of a college campus. Students slip and fall and suffer assaults, rape, and car accidents on campus. Though they may be injured the same as off-campus people, getting hurt on government property makes it harder to be compensated for their injuries. Students may file a claim against the university or college that did not protect them or were negligent in other ways that caused student injuries. However, they may have to comply with notice requirements under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. Still, they may or may not obtain compensation for their injuries. The time limitations to file a claim against a college or university under the Tort Claims Act are incredibly brief, so it is essential to explore your rights and options to sue an educational institution if you find yourself injured on a college campus in New Jersey.
Injury Compensation for On-Campus Accidents by Type of Educational Institution
Whether and how a student proceeds with filing a claim for campus injuries depends on their school. Injury compensation procedures differ depending on whether the college or university is public or private. To make damages claims against a public entity, a claimant must give notice to the institution in compliance with the Tort Claims act. For injuries that occur on government property or by government employees, a student must notify the governmental entity of their intent to file a lawsuit and its basis. Thus, when you are a student and trip, fall and break a leg walking over a lifted paver on school property, you might want to sue the university, but you must first file a timely Notice of Claim with the school. You have 90 days to file a Notice of Claim. Enlisting help from an experienced personal injury attorney is paramount when the time is short to pursue justice and compensation.
The Challenge of Establishing Liability for Universities and Colleges
Nevertheless, filing a timely Notice of Claim does not guarantee that the governmental entity accepts your claim. They may assert sovereign immunity against your claim for an injury on their property. Also, since there is no uniform federal law about premises liability on properties owned or operated by universities and colleges, New Jersey’s case law decides which scenarios exempt the government from liability. New Jersey courts have held the government liable for injuries on university and college campuses, regardless of the student’s status, including international students. Thus, students may recover for their damages resulting from negligence in the upkeep or security of public property or the actions of public employees. It depends on several factors.
Creating Awareness to Protect Students
With the rise in college enrollment and campus crime, federal and state laws now protect students more than they did a half-century ago. This rising awareness of student injuries has led to better campus safety protocols, including transparency in crime statistics, published safety campus contacts, safety education, and campus-wide alert systems regarding security and safety threats. Increased measures for safety prove that colleges and universities are aware of the rampant dangers to students, including assault, theft, drugs, alcohol, hazing, and harassment. With this awareness, the courts are less willing to let educational institutions off the hook for their negligence when they do nothing to address campus threats.
Elements Required to Hold a College Liable for Injuries in NJ
As long as a student can prove that a university breached their duty of care toward them, which caused their injury and resulting damages, they may make a claim. In other words, a university may be negligent when it fails to act with reasonable care in securing the safety of and preventing foreseeable harm to students, staff, and visitors. As such, a university that fails to fix a lifted paver likely to injure hundreds of students that walk on the paver may be responsible for the damages incurred by a student injured by it. They may also be liable for unlit areas that heighten the assault risk at night, unmonitored swimming pools with open access, hazardous conditions that may lead to injuries, or allowing alcohol on campus. These are areas under the university’s control, which is different from less clear conditions under their control, like violent students.
How Premises Liability Works on NJ University and College Campuses
Like any other business, a university is often liable for what is under their control and, thus, for negligence foreseeably likely to cause injuries to those they invite on their campus, namely, students. For premises liability, students are invitees, meaning the university or college opens their campus to students who pay tuition and room and board. Like any business or landlord, the university is responsible for maintaining safe premises for those they invite onto campus. As opposed to the trespasser, the invitee is owed a higher duty of care by a business owner. Moreover, the university may be solely or jointly responsible for dangerous conditions that students, visitors, school employees, or trespassers cause.
While a certain amount of immunity exists for public institutions, in New Jersey, the government may not claim an exemption for creating or maintaining a dangerous condition on their property in all instances. For example, § 59:1-2 of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act affords protection to public employees doing their job in good faith, but not employees who commit fraud or other crimes. For instance, if maintenance crews noticed lights were out on campus, but before they could quickly fix them, an assault or robbery occurred in the unlit area, the public employees may not be liable if they diligently did their job to fix the lights.
However, the Act does not protect public employees who commit outrageous or willful acts to harm others or who harm others outside their employment scope. Whether a university is responsible for the harmful actions of an employee or student depends on whether the administration or school personnel knew the employee or student as potentially dangerous and did nothing to prevent injuries. The question also depends on whether the university personnel could reasonably foresee injuries occurring from a person or condition. For example, if students complain about unlit areas on campus or an employee who is harassing students, the college is on notice of these potentially harmful conditions. If they do nothing, they may be liable for harm arising from these conditions.
Restrictions on Damages Awards from Public Universities
Additionally, the New Jersey Tort Claims Act restricts personal injury awards against public entities. A successful award does not include pain and suffering, except for permanent injuries with medical expenses exceeding $3,600.00. Even though the public university is an extension of the government, the sovereignty exemption is contingent upon how much the university depends on the government for its oversight, finances, management, and origin. Some universities and colleges rely very little on the government.
Injury Claims Against Private and Non-Profit Educational Institutions
Private universities and colleges are easier to sue. They are like businesses and are responsible for the negligent injuries they cause. But non-profit educational institutions may enjoy partial or complete charitable immunity against personal injury claims. Some universities are non-profit entities organized under the Charitable Immunity Act, which protects institutions that provide educational benefits to students. Thus, students injured on campus may not always sue the entity that provided them such benefits. On the other hand, any for-profit activities that cause injury do not qualify as exempt under the Act. The important take-away is that your specific college or university injury claim needs to be examined by a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer who can determine exactly what action to take next.
Suing a College for Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Should a student get past the notice requirements and governmental immunity claims, they may sue for compensatory and punitive damages, depending on their case. Compensatory damages include recovering their lost medical expenses and income, both past and future. They may also be able to recover losses for pain and suffering and emotional distress. For a fatal accident, wrongful death damages may be appropriate, and a court may award punitive damages for colleges that repeatedly ignore safety issues that keep injuring people. A court could also order a college to change its policies and adhere to stricter safety guidelines.
If You Are Hurt on a New Jersey College Campus, Rely on Our Personal Injury Lawyers to Build a Strong Case
When you experience an injury on campus at a private or public university, you should contact a personal injury attorney to pursue a claim in New Jersey. With important deadlines you cannot miss, you want an attorney to help you file your claim timely and properly. You also need an educated personal injury lawyer who will meticulously prepare your case, assemble all of the evidence, and engage any expert witness testimony, accident reconstructionist, lifecare planning specialist, actuaries or financial specialists or medical experts who may support a lawsuit on your behalf.
Since the law is uncertain and changing for so many injured on New Jersey college campuses and universities, a solid personal injury lawyer can advise you whether you have a potentially successful claim before you file a lawsuit. Contact Cohen & Riechelson to get a free case review from our team of personal injury attorneys with over 50 years of experience fighting for and winning compensation for injured victims and their loved ones. We will review your case free of charge and offer our guidance so you can take the next step toward recovering damages.
From our local office in Trenton, we help those with accident-related injuries in Princeton, Lawrence, Trenton, West Windsor, Ewing, Edison, Cranford, Middletown, and other areas around Princeton University, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) , Rider University, Thomas Edison State University, Mercer County Community College, Princeton Theological Seminary, Institute for Advanced Study, Middlesex College, Union County College, Kean University, Rutgers University, and Brookdale Community College.