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Get Drunk, Have Sex, Sue College - Court Approves
Massachusetts Supreme Court Says Colleges Have Legal Duty to Protect Students Who Get Drunk, Even Illegally
In response, Massachusetts Supreme Court rules that colleges and universities do have a legal duty to protect students who voluntarily and illegally (because they are too young to drink legally) intoxicate themselves, and that this duty may even extend to students who consent to sex while they are intoxicated but not incapacitated (the frequent legal standard making the sex a "rape").
However, in this particular case, where a student returned drunk to her dorm from an off-campus party, there was no liability because the students on duty at her dorm could not have reasonably known that she was at risk of having sex while drunk.
However, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf, in future cases where the risk of sex or something else might arguably seem as somewhat clearer, a college or university might be legally liable for failing to protect a student from his or her own folly.
Even if most such actions are unsuccessful, the new ruling does open the door for numerous law suits where students - like this case, where she consented to sex, but afterwards claims she would not have agreed if sober - become drunk and later regret their actions.
Such legal actions, even if they are regarded an "nuisance suits," may nevertheless put pressure on colleges to settle, and prompt them to adopt stricter policies regarding students who are intoxicated.
Ironically, according to the court, the new duty arises in part because universities teach students about the dangers of drinking, and implement amnesty policies, thereby tending to establish that voluntary intoxication by students is foreseeable from the university's perspective.
The legal duty, the court ruled, is "to take reasonable steps to protect that student from harm."
This decision isn't completely unprecedented, says Banzhaf, because two other state court decisions, in Massachusetts and California, determined that a legal duty to protect students arises from the "special relationship"
To make matters even worse, the government effectively prevents universities from warning students about the dangers of sex while intoxicated, and that excessive drinking is a leading factor in complaints about campus date rape, by prohibiting any mention of alcohol or alcohol abuse in federally funded programs aimed at reducing just such rapes.