Visitor Question

Medical bills from fall on campus…

Submitted By: Bob (Bluewater Bay, FL)

My college daughter was on campus and had just left one class and was on her way to her next one. Instead of taking the long way around the building using the sidewalk, she chose to take the shorter and most often used route by students – down the hill.

There is no sign, fence, shrubbery, or obstruction of any kind that would keep students from taking this route. She slipped at the top of the hill (grass was wet) and took a tumble all the way down to the bottom, injuring her ankle, elbow, and pride.

The hill was approximately 25-30 feet high and when she came to rest she thought she had broken her elbow. Three students witnessed her fall and rushed to her aid. They collected her books and personal belongings, then helped her back to the campus building she had just left. An administrator there called for an ambulance.

The EMT person examined her and offered to take her to the nearby hospital which was not more than 3 miles from campus. Instead, she accepted a free ride to the ER from one of the students that came to her aid.

After a long wait at the ER, the attending physician examined her and ordered X-rays. After another long wait the physician determined that no bones were broken, but she had sustained a severe sprain to the elbow. The physician prescribed a sling for her elbow and discharged her.

My daughter (having no medical insurance at that time) received bills totaling almost $6000. The hospital wrote off most of the bill after she made payments totaling just over $700, but now she has a collection agency demanding $1600 to cover physician’s claims.

Do we have a case whereby the school’s insurance must pick up this tab? Does the school have any liability for her injuries? Is there any other help she can get to pay for her medical bills? Thank you.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Bob,

Under Premises Liability a property owner has a legal duty of care to do everything reasonably possible to protect those persons who are legally upon the property from undue harm and injury. To get a better understanding of who’s liable, read this article on the duties of property owners and visitors.

Because each set of facts is unique, the doctrine of premises liability is fluid.

For example, it could be argued your daughter was entirely liable for her own injuries as she chose to walk down a hill not intended by the property owner (school) to be used as a means for students to travel to and from classes. Instead, your daughter should have used the sidewalks intended for students to walk upon when moving from class to class. The sidewalks were clear with no obstructions.

However, it could also be argued the property owner knew, or should have known students regularly used the hill to more quickly move from class to class. To support this argument, it was clear to anyone there was a “beaten path” down the hill, made by hundreds of students traveling down the hill on their way to class.

Knowing students frequently used the hill, the property owner failed to place signage warning students not to use the hill, or that the hill was dangerous, or place a fence or other reasonable impediment to thwart students from using the hill.

Under the facts you present, the school knew or should have known students regularly used the hill to travel from one class to another. With that imputed knowledge, the school took no reasonable action to impede students from doing so. As a result, the school would likely be liable for your daughter’s injuries and related damages.

Her damages can include reimbursement for her medical and therapy costs, out-of-pocket expenses (for such items as medications, her sling, etc.), lost wages (if applicable) and her pain and suffering.

In the alternative, if the property owner had taken these steps, and your daughter ignored them and chose to use the hill, the property owner would likely not be liable for your daughter’s injuries and related damages.

Fortunately, your daughter’s injuries weren’t more serious. Speak with the school administration. Tell them they should have warned students about the danger of using the hill, and failed to do so. Let them know if there was a sign, or a fence, your daughter would have heeded the warning and traversed along the sidewalk.

Because warning the students would have been a “reasonable” action, the school, by failing to act reasonably under the circumstances, failed to protect your daughter from undue harm and injury. That failure, or “breach,” constituted negligence, which may make the school liable for your daughter’s damages.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: October 17, 2017

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