Can I Sue an Ohio College for an Injury on Campus?

Doug Mann

Table of Contents
  1. Ohio Premises Liability Basics
  2. Other Liability for Injuries on Campus

We like to think of a college campus as a relatively safe environment where young adults can transition from their teens to independence over time. But, there are hazards everywhere, on-campus injuries happen. Whether or not a college is responsible for an on-campus injury depends on a variety of factors.  Some of the key considerations include:

  • Whether the injury occurred as the result of negligence on the part of the institution
  • Whether the college is is a private institution or a state school
  • The nature of the incident that caused the injury

The most common and obvious cause of action for an on-campus injury is premises liability. That’s a landowner’s or tenant’s responsibility for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on their property. But, depending on how the injury occurs, there may be other possible claims.

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Ohio Premises Liability Basics

In general,  an Ohio property owner or tenant is liable for injuries that take place on their property if:

  • The property owner or tenant failed to fulfill its legal obligation to maintain the property in reasonably safe condition, and
  • That failure to keep the property safe for visitors caused the injury

The standard of care varies depending on the reason the injured person is on the property. For example, the proprietor of a business is generally obliged to exercise reasonable care to find out about any hazards or defects on the property and do something about them–either fix them or warn visitors to the premises about them. 

On the other hand, property owners and tenants generally owe no duty of care to an adult trespasser except “to refrain from willful, wanton, or reckless conduct that is likely to cause injury, death, or loss to the person of the trespasser.” But, that duty is heightened if the owner or tenant knows the trespasser is in peril on the property or–in some situations–if the trespasser is a child.

So, even before other factors are considered, a college’s potential liability to someone walking down the stairway in their dormitory to go to class in the afternoon would be different from the institution’s potential liability to a student who broke into the closed and locked art building at 2 a.m.

Because there are so many variables in play, it can be difficult to determine whether you have a claim against a college for an injury on campus, or whether there may be other responsible parties. An experienced local injury attorney can be your best source of information about your possible claims. 

Private v. Public Colleges

Premises liability claims against a private college in Ohio will generally be subject to the same law and standards as would apply to another private entity in Ohio.

Imagine, for example, that the cleaning crew at a private college cleared out for lunch, negligently leaving their supplies at the top of a flight of stairs. A student leaving class stepped on a wet rag left at the top of the stairs, slipped and fell down the stairs, breaking his arm and sustaining a concussion.

In this scenario, you could generally expect the private college to be liable for the injury–just as a retail store or fitness center would be under similar circumstances. 

However, governmental subdivisions get special protections under Ohio law. That includes public colleges. So, whether a public college is liable for injuries sustained due to dangerous conditions on its premises will depend on the specific circumstances. A governmental entity generally won’t be liable for damages caused by “any act or omission of the political subdivision or an employee of the political subdivision in connection with a governmental or proprietary function.” But, there are exceptions. 

One of those exceptions, which often applies when someone is injured on governmental property, involves physical defects in the building or grounds. So, if you’ve been injured on the grounds of a public college, you shouldn’t make any assumptions. An experienced Ohio premises liability attorney can help determine whether your case falls into one of the exceptions that would allow you to pursue a claim against a state college or university. Your attorney can also assess whether a third party may be partly responsible for your injuries. 

Another Type of Premises Liability

Though most premises liability cases involve incidents like slip and fall accidents, property owners or tenants may also be liable for injuries that occur on their property as a result of another type of negligence. These cases are often described as “negligent security” claims. 

Generally, businesses, colleges, and other entities are not expected to provide a completely secure environment for customers, guests, students and others. However, there are circumstances in which a failure in security or a failure to warn of known risks may result in liability. For example, a private college dormitory that touted security measures such as cameras in the parking lot, security doors, and well-lit walkways, hallways, and stairwells might be liable for an attack by an intruder in the hallway if they knew the security door was broken and neglected to fix it in a timely manner, or if the hallways light had been out for several days and not replaced despite reports from residents. 

Other Liability for Injuries on Campus

Not every injury on campus involves dangerous or poorly maintained premises. Other campus injuries might include: 

  • Motor vehicle accidents on campus
  • Bicycle accidents on campus
  • Injuries sustained while playing sports (for the college or with friends)
  • Injuries caused by the negligence of a staff member or other student
  • Intentional injury caused by another student

Each of these case types is analyzed differently, and in each scenario there may be circumstances in which the college bears some or all of the responsibility and others in which it does not. 

For example, in the case of motor vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian accidents, any liability would typically lie with the responsible driver, just as it would in a car accident off campus. However, there may be limited circumstances in which the college might be responsible, such as when a road maintenance issue on campus caused or contributed to the accident. 

In many scenarios, a private college may be liable where a public college would not. But, there are exceptions. One significant exception involves injuries sustained through hazing. Ohio law specifically allows lawsuits against colleges, administrators, employees, and others in connection with hazing injuries–including public colleges and universities and their employees. 

To learn more about your rights after an injury on a college campus, including who may be liable for your injuries, what type of damages may be available, and what happens if you were partly responsible for your own injury, schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced Ohio injury lawyers. Call 937-222-2222 right now, or fill out the contact form on this page. 

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