Washington Case Law Update: School District Owes Duty to Student Not in School’s Custody

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Washington Case Law Update: School District Owes Duty to Student Not in School’s Custody

From the Desk of Thomas McCurdy: A school district has a duty to protect its students from foreseeable risks of harm.  But is an off-campus rape of one student by another foreseeable to the school district?  In this case, the Washington Supreme Court evaluates the scope of this duty.

Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of the rape of a junior high student by a high school student, the Supreme Court was asked to determine the scope of duty owed by a school district to its students.  The Court reinforced its long held position that schools have a solemn duty to protect its students from foreseeable harms.  In rejecting a bright line rule that a school’s duty is limited to situations where the injury occurs while the victim is in its custody, the Court held that the location of an injury is relevant, but not determinative.  Rather, the critical factor in the liability analysis is the location of the negligence, not the location of injury.

N.L. v. Bethel School District, No. 91775-2, Washington Supreme Court (September 1, 2016)

Nicholas Clark (Clark), an 18-year-old registered sex offender, ran track for Bethel High School’s varsity team, although his coaches were not aware of his status as a sex offender.  The varsity team shared the track field with Bethel Junior High School, where a 14-year-old minor student, NL, also ran track.  Clark allegedly acted as a coach and mentor to the younger students of both schools.  During practice, a mutual friend introduced Clark to NL, and the two exchanged phone numbers and started texting one another.  Clark told NL he was 16 years old, and he invited NL to lunch.  The next day, the two skipped practice to go to lunch at a nearby Burger King.  Instead, however, Clark drove past the restaurant, took NL to his house, and raped her.

At the time, Clark already had an extensive disciplinary history, including a 2004...

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