Thursday, August 1, 2019

College Held Not Responsible for Acts of Inebriated Fraternity Member Under Facts Alleged

In the case of Rose v. Vilmatelo, No. 2018-SU-450 (C.P. Adams Co. April 12, 2019 George, J.), the court addressed Preliminary Objections filed by Gettysburg College seeking the dismissal of a Plaintiff’s personal injury claim arising out of allegations that the Plaintiff, a college student, was injured by an allegedly inebriated participant at a fraternity function on campus.  

The Plaintiff alleged that the college was responsible for the acts of its students and that the college breached its duty to supervise the actions of the fraternity.

The court dismissed the Plaintiff’s Complaint against the college based upon the case of Alumni Ass’n v. Sullivan, 572 A.2d 1209 (Pa. 1990) in which it was held that college students were no longer minors, but rather adults who were capable of protecting their own self interests.  As such, under that case, a college was found not to have any duties in loco parentis with respect to its students.  

The trial court in this matter rejected the Plaintiff’s efforts to get around the Sullivan case by way of the Plaintiff’s arguments that (1) the college was allegedly aware that alcohol consumption was a problem on campus, (2) that the college had previously enacted rules requiring fraternities to notify the college administration of any events involving alcohol and, (3) in that the college required the fraternities to have someone oversee conduct at such events.   The Plaintiff alleged that, by enacting these rules, the college had assumed a special duty to control the activities at the event.  

The trial court in this Rose case rejected these arguments and noted that prior case law in Pennsylvania had rejected these types of arguments.   The court noted that, by simply adopting social policies for campus activities, the college did not create an in loco parentis type of duty on the part of the college.   The court found that the college’s social policy and rules were not an assumption of a duty, but rather a policy statement that adult students should be aware of their own behavior and act accordingly.  

The court in this Rose case emphasized that the Plaintiff’s Complaint did not contain any allegations that the college itself was a social host.   

The Complaint also did not allege that representatives of the college were present at this fraternity function or that any college representative assisted in any way in procuring or distributing alcohol to the attendees of the event.

Based upon this rationale, the court sustained the Preliminary Objections asserted by the Defendant, Gettysburg College.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (July 16, 2019). 

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