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Funky Bunch College is a small liberal arts college with a self-contained campus in a largely rural area. The school has decided to reopen in Fall 2020, and the college’s President has concerns about COVID-19, particularly regarding the dormitories and using large lecture halls.
The President decides to reopen the dorms at half capacity and to allow the remainder of students flexibility with returning to campus and class. Students who choose to live in the dorms must sign a waiver indicating that they are aware of the unique situation that has arisen because of the coronavirus, and by living on campus, they are assuming the risk of illness and agreeing not to hold the College liable.
The President orders heightened cleanliness standards for the dorms’ janitorial staff and has the Housing Director advise Resident Assistants that everyone must wear a mask when leaving their rooms and must practice social distancing. The Housing Director is to discipline or remove RAs that fail to enforce these rules, and she is given the freedom to dole out punishment on a case-by-case basis.
In September, a male student, Ned Nitpickerr, complains about two RAs on the men’s floors who fail to enforce the mask and social distancing rules. The Housing Director meets with both RAs, who agree to practice better enforcement.
In October, Gina Getsill develops COVID-19, and the severity of her symptoms results in a costly hospital bill. She sues for compensatory damages and punitive damages, asserting that the College was negligent in keeping her safe from the coronavirus.
A preliminary investigation shows that, unbeknownst to the Housing Director, Gina’s RA was occasionally lax with enforcement of the mask and social distancing rules. Otherwise, Gina did not have a car and generally stayed on campus, except when she would occasionally go to a pizzeria in town and when she would visit someone she was dating who lived in a private apartment complex. Ultimately, the College intends to defend itself and adopts additional measures to protect its students from the coronavirus.
Since the court case was filed, several students on campus tested positive for Covid 19.
Thinking about the college as a whole: Would the waiver hold up in court? How might requiring a waiver impact enrollment? What would be appropriate repercussions for not wearing a mask? Should faculty enforce mask wearing and how? How should the college address employees who are not wearing masks? What elements of this should be added to the employee handbook and/or student code of conduct? What are potential liability concerns for the on campus bookstore and dining hall? What are some solutions to minimize liability?
Most legal analysts would say that there are four elements to a negligence claim. The plaintiff has to prove all four elements, and the defense will try to knock out as many elements as they can. Learn what those elements are, and apply them to the scenario, one at a time.
What are Gina’s strongest arguments that the College should be held liable for her illness and resulting hospital bill? What are the College’s best arguments to defend itself? Could the College have taken steps to better position itself for litigation?
Create a 7-10 page paper analyzing this case study. Your paper should be supported by 5-7 court cases and information from credible sites. You will likely use media and newspaper clippings. If so, I would like you to comment on whether there may be bias in the reporting. You can make a general disclaimer in the beginning or end of your paper about the sources or after each first mention of the information.
Concepts to consider in creating your paper: Liability, Assumption of risk, Comparative Negligence, Florida Statues Rule 90.407 and freedom of speech.
Court cases to consider: Li v. Yellow Cab Co, MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., United States v. Carroll Towing, Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California.
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